Faith-Based Intermediaries and Cross-Cultural Conflict
As such, “the clash of civilizations” serves as an apt metaphor to describe the pivotal role of ethnicity, culture and religion both in the genesis and escalation of conflict as well as its resolution. Jay Rothman refers to these as identity-based conflicts. Thus, those who would seek to be intermediaries as reconcilers and peacemakers in international conflict must be able to understand and operate within the vortex of cross cultural clash.
In this paper I am interested in a particular genre of intermediaries known as Faith-Based Intermediaries, who seek to integrate religious faith with intervention in cross cultural conflict. Hence, the scope of this paper is to explore the complex interaction of culture, conflict and faith-based intervention. Specifically my topic is, “Faith-Based Intermediaries and Cross Cultural Conflict”. First of all, I will define the concept of a faith-based intermediary and explain the key forms of intervention. Secondly, I will focus on the concept of the “clash of civilizations” particularly as it describes the emerging world order and the interplay of culture and conflict resolution. Finally, the heart of this paper will be devoted to an analysis of a cross cultural conflict scenario requiring a complex and nuanced blend of different modes of faith-based intervention.
I will begin by providing a definition of faith-based intermediaries and the various forms of intervention. Thomas Princen writes that intermediaries are, “third parties who intercede for the purpose of influencing or facilitating the settlement of a dispute but who do not impose a solution. They are actors with incentives to be involved but without direct interests in the disputed issues.”1Later Princen expands his definition, “This book then is an attempt to characterize the peculiarities of this position and to lay out what is distinctive about intermediary intervention as a method of conflict management and, more generally, as a decision making process.”2Thus, intervention is not only for the purpose of conflict resolution, but for the wider purpose of conflict management and prevention. Louise Diamond and John McDonald refer to this form of intervention as multi-track diplomacy. They write, “The term Multi-Track Diplomacy refers to a conceptual framework we designed to reflect the variety of activities that contribute to international peacemaking and peacebuilding.”3Later they write, “It refers to non-governmental, informal and unofficial contacts and activities between private citizens or groups of individuals, sometimes called citizen diplomats or non-state actors.”4They suggest that the activities of intermediaries have three basic objectives: to reduce or resolve conflict between groups or nations, to decrease misunderstanding and negative feelings by humanizing the other party or fostering direct contact, to enable a broader and more creative approach to peacemaking than is frequently possible in official government initiatives, but also to enhance official efforts.
Regarding faith-based intermediaries, Edward Luttwak in his article, “The Missing Dimension” writes, “Equally the role of religious leaders, religious institutions and religiously motivated lay figures in conflict resolution has also been disregarded or treated as a marginal phenomena hardly worth noting.”5Larry Whitham, in a May 3, 1999 article in the Washington Times writes, “For Douglas Johnston, a conflict resolution advocate, religion may be an avenue to end the long-standing conflict when all else has failed.”6A faith-based intermediary is one whose intervention as a reconciler or peacemaker contains five basic elements in addition to the aforementioned parameters. The first element is motivation. Faith-based intermediaries are motivated to be reconcilers and peacemakers out of a deeply held religious conviction. Douglas Johnston writes, “Peacemaking on the part of the church is widely accepted as a humanitarian act consistent with religious belief.”7Jesus of Nazareth in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:9) said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”
The second element is a proactive and conscious dependency on spiritual principles and resources in the conduct of peacemaking and intervention. Larry Whitham writes, “In the world of geopolitics the fact that Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers or that Jesus is praised frequently in the Koran would be considered by many policy-makers and diplomats as a very small building block indeed.”8Faith-based intermediaries are not afraid to utilize such spiritual tools as prayer, fasting, spiritual conversations and the sacred scriptures in working with the parties to a conflict. This is in contrast to intermediaries who embrace a religious faith, but for whom it plays no meaningful role in the practice of statecraft.
The third element is a religiously based affiliational authority. Every intermediary faces the issue of legitimacy. In other words, why should the parties to a conflict give an erstwhile prospective intermediary the time of day? Why should they allow him/her to play a role in the resolution of the conflict? For faith-based intermediaries legitimacy is derived in one of two ways; either because the intermediary represents a credible religious organization or because the individual exudes a sense of charismatic authority based on their spirituality or on the strength of their rapport with the parties.
The fourth element is a pluralistic heart. An intermediary with a pluralistic heart is one who is firmly rooted in their own religious tradition, but understands and respects the essence of other traditions. It is not in their heart to dominate or diminish other traditions, but to build bridges of friendship and understanding. At the same time they could provide a spirited apologetic about the truth of their own tradition. It must be said here that a pluralistic heart is not the same as a secular, humanistic approach to peacemaking. Secularists, by definition, would not qualify as faith-based intermediaries.
The fifth element is a transcendent paradigm of conflict analysis. A faith-based intermediary may be well trained in the disciplines of conflict analysis, negotiation or mediation, but they know that there are limitations to human wisdom. As such, they allow their own sacred texts to inform them not only about human nature and behavior but about the spiritual dimensions of the human heart and the keys to a deep and lasting reconciliation. This sensitivity also enables them to discern the religious subtext underlying so many identity-based conflicts which are frequently missed by secular minded policymakers and diplomats. Finally, faith-based reconcilers believe that God can and does intervene in human affairs and that human planning could be superseded by the sudden move of God’s spirit.
I will now address the seven key modes of intervention that largely define the scope of activity of a peacemaking intermediary. The first mode of intervention is imparting vision. The task of imparting vision in a conflict situation can take one of two forms. First of all, it involves empowering the parties to a conflict to embrace a new reality and a new relationship with each other. This not only enables parties in conflict to move toward reconciliation, but also encourages them to become instruments of reconciliation in their own spheres of influence. Harvey Cox writes, “one reason Jesus’ words touched Gandhi so deeply may be that they evoked associations with his very Hindu conviction that even the bitterest enmity can be made to give way to reconciliation if the actors can be led to see the situation differently”.9Secondly, it involves the development of reconciliation as a moral vision for a particular community or nation regardless or whether or not it is embroiled in a conflict. A moral vision is a body of underlying spiritual and moral principles that form the core values of the community or nation and provide the foundation or basis of its political, economic, social and cultural structures. G. Hofstede writes, “Culture in this sense includes systems of values; and values are among the building blocks of culture.”10The purpose of imparting such a moral vision is so that reconciliation will become the permanent center of gravity in that culture. This is a particularly poignant mode of intervention with heads of state or leaders of ethnic communities since one of the key aspects of leadership is the articulation of vision.
The second mode of intervention is building bridges. The task of bridgebuilding means developing the tangible and intangible strands of connectedness among diverse people groups in a community or state so that they can live together in peace and seek the common good of the whole community. Bridgebuilding means being an architect of a reconciliation system and assumes a pluralistic vision for a community. There are five areas that point to the need for bridgebuilding between two cultural entities: a situation of no historical relationship or long term estrangement or irreconcilable core values or personality clashes between leaders or inherited prejudice on the part of both communities toward each other. In building bridges between two individuals or two communities an intermediary provides the basis of forging unity out of diversity and engenders the fabric of long term conflict prevention.
The third mode of intervention is healing conflicts. The task of healing conflicts through mediation is perhaps the role most closely associated historically with the intervention of intermediaries. In this case the goal of reconciliation is an end to the hostilities with both a resolution of the issues and a restoration of the relationships. Ending the hostilities means that there is a permanent cease-fire between two parties whether in words or weapons. Resolution of the issues means that the grievances for both sides have been vocalized, heard, understood, addressed and ameliorated in some tangible form. Restoration of the relationships means to extract the poisonous venom and to cross back over the line from adversarial to civil or even friendship. Some of the more historically reknown instances of faith-based intervention have been President Jimmy Carter’s mediation between Israelis and Palestinians at Camp David from 1977 to 1979 and Pope John Paul II’s mediation between Argentina and Chile from 1978 to 1984.
The fourth mode of intervention is healing the wounds of history. These are events in the institutional collective memory of an identity-based community, which bring emotional, spiritual and moral pain and suffering, and inhibit the development of the redemptive gifts and purpose of that community or nation. In a previous study on Faith Based Diplomacy I made the following observations, “Usually parties to identity-based conflicts are deeply wounded by their collective historical consciousness. This state of woundedness needs to be considered by intermediaries involved in the mediation of cross cultural conflict. Historical wounds create a victim/offender dynamic, give birth to stereotyping and demonization, create wounded world views, impart subsequent generations and cause a profound sense of loss and suffering which lead to mistrust, collective guilt and further polarization. In other words, one of the principal reasons that negotiations to resolve a conflict might be unproductive is because the parties are captive to their wounded histories and are unable to reach beyond their bitterness and sense of injustice. In this context an intermediary may be needed to enable the parties to a conflict to surface antagonism and create resonance with each other in order to engage in a problem solving approach to the resolution of the conflict.”11
The fifth mode of intervention is advocacy for social justice. In my tradition as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth we speak about the concept of biblical social justice which means that God has given moral absolutes as a means of governing human relationships and structures and these are embodied in such concepts as human rights, respect, equity, impartiality and advocacy. Biblical social justice embodies a transformation of not only systems and structures, but also relationships and human hearts. From my friends in the black community of South Africa I learned some fifteen years ago that there can be no true reconciliation built on a foundation of injustice. Sometimes in the conflict between two parties an intermediary is unable to play a neutral role and must visibly and proactively identify with the oppressed as a strategic choice in resolving the conflict by removing a significant moral barrier.
The sixth mode of intervention is negotiating for prisoners and hostages. Frequently in conflicts that involve a significant power differential between the parties the weaker entity will use prisoners and hostages as a negotiating ploy to level the playing field. Quite often governments or revolutionary groups are unwilling to release the hostages to the party with whom they are in conflict. However, they are able to save face by releasing them to an intermediary as a “humanitarian gesture”. Two famous faith-based intermediaries who have successfully negotiated for the release of hostages have been former Anglican envoy Terry Waite and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.
The final mode of intervention is a go-between messenger. Often the most difficult task in mediating a conflict is convening the mediation, getting the parties to the table. Frequently, they are unable or unwilling to speak with each other directly and, thus, need an intermediary to carry messages between them. This has been dubbed as “shuttle diplomacy” and is another common role of intermediaries. I am personally acquainted with a veteran U.S. faith-based intermediary who was utilized as a go between for President Jimmy Carter and PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat during the late 1970’s.
I will now address the concept of the “clash of civilizations” particularly as it describes the emerging world order and the interplay of culture and conflict resolution. First of all, the clash of civilizations means that cultural identity is the primary factor shaping strategic alliances and antagonisms in global politics today. Samuel Huntington writes, “Spurred by modernization, global politics is being reconfigured along cultural lines. Peoples and countries with similar cultures are coming together. People and countries with different cultures are coming apart.”12Identity is the racial, ethnic, tribal, national, cultural or religious distinctiveness of a group. Identity includes recognition; the need to be known and affirmed by another, to be understood, seen, respected and valued. International politics today is the politics of identity. Hence, a faith-based intermediary is operating in the context of identity politics and conflicts, meaning that cross cultural differences serve as a primary cause of conflict.
Secondly, the clash of civilizations means that in many cases religion serves as the anchor point in civilizational identity. Hence, to not understand religion is to not understand conflict. Samuel Huntington writes, “Religion is a central defining characteristic of civilizations, and, as Christopher Dawson said, ‘the great religions are the foundations on which the great civilizations rest’.”13Therefore, faith-based intermediaries are uniquely poised to make a contribution to peacemaking in cross cultural conflict because they are able to identify with, understand or feel empathy for the religious principles, practices and disciplines that play a key role in shaping the cultural identity of the disputants.
Thirdly, the clash of civilizations means that conflict is a universal human experience, yet it is distinct in every culture. David Augsburger writes, “Among humans, retaliation, revenge and a demand for repayment are the norm, and means of channeling and limiting conflict have evolved in patterns unique to each group.”14Later he states, “What comprises a conflict in one culture is a daily difference of opinion in another.”15Therefore, in the training of a faith-based intermediary in the tools of peacemaking and conflict resolution such as conflict analysis, negotiation or mediation it is important that they be taught the interpretative keys to enable adaptation to the particular cross cultural clash. The mentality “one size fits all” can lead to serious errors and actually stiffen the resistance of parties to conciliation.
Fourthly, the clash of civilizations means that every culture has indigenous forms of conflict resolution, particularly in the more traditional cultures. Christopher W. Moore writes, “The modern practice of mediation is not confined to western culture, and in fact mediation procedures may be more widely practiced in non-western societies and countries than in the west.”16This means that it behooves the faith-based intermediary to learn about and utilize where possible the indigenous methods of conflict resolution in a particular cross cultural clash.
Finally, the clash of civilizations means that each culture has a different understanding of the nature and form of reconciliation. David Augsburger writes, “The nature of reconciliation, both in form and content, varies so widely across cultures that multiple models are necessary if we are to capture the unique character and process of restoring severed relationships."17In my conversation with Islamic leaders in the Balkans, Middle East and South Asia, I have discovered that on a superficial level Christians and Muslims have similar understandings of the nature of reconciliation. However, if one digs below the surface, one discovers some profound differences of perception and belief. Thus, when a faith-based intermediary speaks with parties to a conflict about reconciliation they need to Understand the reconciliation paradigm of those parties.
I will now focus on an analysis of a cross cultural conflict scenario requiring a complex and nuanced blend of different modes of faith-based intervention. In this scenario I will include five elements: the rationale for choosing the scenario, a cultural overview of the parties to the conflict, a description of the conflict and each party’s understanding of it, a description of each party’s understanding and approach to reconciliation, and suggest some appropriate modes of faith-based intervention. The cross cultural conflict scenario I have chosen is between the United States and Iran. Specifically, I will focus on the task of reconciliation between U.S. and Iranian religious leaders.
I have chosen this scenario because I am presently involved in the early stages of just such an initiative with a group of veteran U.S. diplomats. This initiative arose out of my efforts in 1996 to foster reconciliation in Bosnia amongst the religious leaders. At that time I observed that the two major external influences in Bosnia were the United States and Iran who were pulling Bosnia in completely opposite directions; a secular western multiethnic democracy vs. an Islamic state under sharia law and firmly anchored in the Islamic “Dar es Harb.” In addition, I observed that the lack of reconciliation between the U.S. and Iran was having a “spill over” effect in Bosnia. As such, the efforts toward reconciliation in Bosnia were being undermined by this broader geopolitical conflict between the U.S. and Iran. Shortly thereafter, through networking doors began to open for me in the Iranian world. In April 1997 I attended a one day workshop at Columbia University on U.S./Iran relations. In addition I have met a number of U.S. scholars on Iran and U.S. diplomats formerly posted in Iran. I have also made at least one key Iranian contact and am currently developing that relationship. I am choosing to focus on building bridges with religious leaders because that is part of my own identity and sphere of influence.
From a cultural perspective the U.S. is a secular modern western society with a foundation of values derived from European Judeo-Christian principles. The U.S. is a polyglot immigrant culture beginning with largely European and African roots but more recently incorporating Hispanic, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. Iran, on the other hand, is a traditional Persian culture with a foundation of values grounded in Shiite Islam. It is important to emphasize that they are Persian, not Arab, an important aspect of Iranian identity and uniqueness. Iranians bristle at references to the “Arabian Gulf” as opposed to the “Persian Gulf”. During the reign of Shah Reza Pahlavi (1953-79) there were conscious efforts to develop Iran into a secular modern “western” state. Such efforts were completely undone by the Iranian Revolution beginning in 1979 with the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Tehran from exile in France. Today, Iran consciously identifies itself as an Islamic Republic under sharia law. Although there are growing signs of popular unrest with the authoritarian clerical rule. Fen Montaigne writes, “Although the mood of Iranians has shifted under Khatami, the fundamentalist laws and customs of the Islamic republic remain in place.”18Sandra Mackey writes, “The Iranians are a people claiming two complex and interlocking traditions. One comes out of ancient Persia, the other out of Islam.”19
On the emic level of outward cultural manifestation the U.S. is a low context culture that relies heavily on spoken and written communication as a means of defining social behavior and rules. Iran, on the other hand, as an ancient Persian culture, is high context in that people rely on implied and assumed social cues and roles. This suggests that any effort to foster reconciliation between the two will be fraught with communication landmines. Iranians will tend to be offended by American’s need for clarity and being explicit. Americans, on the other hand, might perceive Iranians as devious and non-communicative. Moreover, Americans might end up unaware that they have offended their Iranian counterparts should such happen in the course of cross cultural interactions. At the same time Iranians will need to realize that Americans value openness over subtlety and will often form negative impressions of those they perceive as less than forthright. Americans also like to know where they stand with people and may tend to feel frustrated at not being able to “read” their new Iranian friend.
The U.S. is a strongly monochronic culture where people process information, communicate and undertake tasks in a linear sequential fashion. Iran, on the other hand is a polychronic culture where people process information, communicate and undertake tasks in more of a circular pattern that seems illogical and irrational to members of monochronic cultures. In the process of fostering reconciliation with Iranians, the Americans will need to be patient about the slow and seemingly circuitous nature of progress. They will need to realize that the best route for Iranians from point A to point B is through point M.
The U.S. is definitely a “clockbound” culture where “time is money” while Iran is a “relative time” culture where “time is people”. In fostering reconciliation with Iranians, Americans will need to relax and “go with the flow.” Because of their preoccupation with time they may perceive certain activities as “time wasters” when, in reality, for the Iranians “being together” is an important dimension of relationship building. In the heart of an Iranian, relationships are the foundation for any future joint initiatives. Iranians will do nothing of significance with a new partner until they have decided to trust them. Fen Montaigne quotes Shahla Lahiji, a publisher and advocate of women’s rights who lives in Tehran, “Obedience was always for the outside. Disobedience was for the inside. Outside we don’t trust anyone. It is the reason for our survival.”20
People in both U.S. and Iranian culture have defined areas of “private” and “public” space. Fen Montaigne again quotes Shahla Lahiji, “We always live two lives, one outside the home and one inside. Later Montaigne writes, “Behind closed doors morals become personal.”21In general Americans move into relationship much more swiftly than Iranians. Hence, Americans involved in reconciliation initiatives will need to take a long term strategic view.
On the etic level of values and worldviews that inform and give rise to the outward manifestations of culture, the U.S. and Iran are a study in comparison and contrast. Although the U.S. recognizes a separation between church and state and considers itself a secular liberal democracy, the reality is that a Judeo-Christian worldview has profoundly shaped cultural values. The U.S. moral vision is, at its heart, a Judeo-Christian moral vision. The roots of American identity, mythology and culture are embodied in the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, the American revolutionaries, the rugged pioneers and explorers of the Old West and the Slave auctions and plantations of the colonies.
Iran speaks of itself as an Islamic republic in which Islam provides a total cultural system. Anne Cooper writes, “As such, Islam must not be seen merely as a set of religious ideas and practices, but as a complete way of life.”22However, the reality of Iranian culture is a much more nuanced interplay of Persian and Islamic roots. Sandra Mackey writes, “Through the Islamic Empire’s centuries of glory, the Iranians adhered to Islam and incorporated much of the Arabic language into Farsi. But, at the same time, they rejected Arab culture, choosing instead to hold to the values, mores and aesthetics of pre-Islamic Persia.”23The Iranian moral vision is, at it’s heart, both a Persian and Islamic moral vision. The roots of Persian identity and culture are embodied in the two historic personages of Cyrus and Zoroaster. Sandra Mackey writes, “Zoroasterianism was taking root in Iran about the time Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, was born. In one of those momentous twists of fate on which history sometimes hangs, one of the most significant religious figures of all time and one of the greatest political-military geniuses ever to stride across the human landscape both occupied the cradle of the Iranian nation in the same era. Their creations—one religious, the other political—blended. Zoroaster gave Cyrus’s earthly realm a soul and Cyrus gave Zoroastrianism a body.”24
Regarding worldviews on human nature, both American Christian and Jewish leaders as well as Iranian Islamic leaders would understand man as a mixture of good and evil. From a Christian perspective human beings are created in the image of God and are, therefore, worthy of dignity and respect. At the same time, human beings are fallen and broken in nature. Therefore, they are capable of not only good but also sin and evil. The Persian/Islamic perspective is expressed in Sandra Mackey’s words, “The ultimate fate of the individual depends on how well he or she acts in the cosmic battle between the powers of light and the powers of darkness. For at death, the good person enters into paradise, the doer of evil into eternal hell.”25
Regarding worldviews on man’s relationship with nature both Americans and Iranians tend to believe that man is master of nature. All the sacred texts; Christian, Islamic and Zoroastrian speak in one form or another of human beings exercising dominion and stewardship over creation. Thus, both Americans and Iranians will tend to be proactive in believing that human efforts can change the status quo from conflict to reconciliation.
Regarding worldviews on temporal orientation both Americans and Iranians tend to be oriented toward the future. P. R. Harris and R. T. Moran write, “Most middle class North Americans are oriented to the future.”26Mahmood Sariolghalam writes, “Today’s young population barely has any reasons to seek its identity by looking into the past. It’s preoccupation is with the future.”27This bodes well in terms of receptivity of both Americans and Iranians to a fresh paradigm of reconciliation to describe their relationship in the future.
Regarding worldviews on the modality of man’s activity
I will now attempt to describe the conflict scenario between the U.S. and Iran and each party’s perception of the conflict. For the past twenty years the U.S. and Iran have been in a considerable state of estrangement from each other in the international community. To Iran the U.S. has been the “Great Satan”. To the U.S. Iran has been a “terrorist” or “rogue state.” Richard J. Pocker writes, “The State Department’s April 1998 report on state sponsored terrorism, branding Iran as the most active sponsor of terrorism in the world will serve as a cold dose of reality for advocates supporting warming relations with Iran and a larger role for an Iranian government as yet unrepentant for its past international misdeeds.”28However, the U.S./Iranian relationship over the past twenty years has been more than mere estrangement, it has been a continuing low intensity conflict that has often been prosecuted through diplomacy and surrogates. Diplomatically the U.S. has attempted to isolate Iran with international sanctions through the United Nations. It’s policy of “dual containment” in the Middle East has been an effort to curb the influence of both Iran and Iraq. The U.S. has also sought to cultivate positive relationships with other Islamic states in order to blunt any possibility of Islamic solidarity with Iran even though Iran is Shia and most Arab countries are Sunni Muslim. At the same time, Iran has focused its diplomacy on cultivating the states of the European Union in an effort to sew seeds of division between the U.S. and Europe over isolation of Iran. The Iranian government has also supported terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine. Operating from Lebanon, these groups have attempted to undermine the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestinians. In addition, Iran has been developing a nuclear weapons program and dabbled in the development of both biological and chemical weapons.
When one considers that this is an initiative to foster reconciliation between U.S. and Iranian religious leaders there are two additional templates that provide more layers to the conflict. While in Iran the Shia Islamic community is the predominant religious influence, in the United States the Christian and Jewish communities are the predominant religious influence. Therefore, the first template is Christian/Muslim relationships. Both Christianity and Islam are traditional monotheistic religions with a missionary heart. Both see its adherents as the “elect” and non-adherents as “pagans”. Both have a history of persecution as oppressors and oppressed. Shia Muslims remember the Crusades of the eleventh and twelfth centuries as if they were yesterday. To Muslims Christianity is an ideology that seeks to dominate and subject other traditions. Christians are only too aware of the intense persecution that their brothers and sisters in Iran have been experiencing over the past twenty years. The murder of the Anglican bishop of Iran is only the tip of the iceberg. To Iranian Muslims, Christianity and the West are synonymous in their minds as a force of political, cultural and religious imperialism. To American Christians, Iran and Islam are synonymous with violence and terrorism.
The second template is Jewish/Islamic relationships and the State of Israel. In Iran the subject of Israel is a forbidden topic of public discourse. Iranian Muslims tend to view Israel with considerable hostility as a colony of western imperialism in an otherwise Islamic region. They view the U. S. Jewish community as being unduly influenced by Israel and a naive tool of Israeli foreign policy. Since American Jewish leaders consider the security and vitality of Israel as a sacred trust, the Iranian hostility toward Israel is viewed through the historical prism of anti-Semitism. Many in the American Jewish community view Iran as intensely anti-Semitic and devoted to the destruction of the Jewish people