As we strive to gather support for a mediation community based initiative to support religious leaders to develop “next steps” to a letter form Muslim to Christian religious leaders and seek information the initiative is gaining traction, we are encouraged “The Economist,” in their November 1st 2007 edition, ran an 18 page special report which acknowledges a role for religion in conflict resolution. The series of articles and reference to a book the authors call “prescient,” support our contention mediators have an opportunity to play a critical role in “process” and “expertise” development in negotiations, utilizing “religion based interests,” which are different from “tangible and therefore divisible and negotiable interests” associated with politics, as being critical to conflict resolution in this century.
In one Economist article “The lesson fromAmerica” authors pose the following question reflecting their revised view:
“If you gather together a group of self-professed foreign-policy experts—whether they be neoconservatives, realpolitickers or urbane European diplomats—you can count on a sneer if you mention “inter-faith dialogue”. At best, they say, it is liberal waffle; at worst it is I appeasement. But who is being naive?”
They cite Douglas Johnston’s book, “Religion, The Missing Dimension of Statecraft” [By Douglas Johnston, Cynthia Sampson, Oxford University Press US] as being “prescient” in recognizing the critical role religion will be playing in resolving conflicts in this century. I don’t have his book. However, there are enough excerpts on the internet to support a mediation community initiative. A few of observations just from the Introduction are illustrative:
- “Interests”, in religion are, “non-material” and “identity based.” The author differentiates these from the “tangible material” interests most of us associate with interest based mediation. The author clearly states the failure of “governmental” based expertise in disputes involving religin led to the need for external resources to be utilized to achieve agreement. Perhaps some processes and such expertise resides within the religious communities, but between them?
- According to the author we should not base a religious negotiation on a “shrewd understanding of interests.” Rather, negotiations need to be based on understanding the “emotional stakes of the parties which are often deeply rooted in history ….” Isn’t focusing on emotions kind of strange to us as mediators? I thought we want parties to focus on issues? Understanding the deep roots in history, aren’t we supposed to move parties towards a view of the future? Does this mean if the author’s observations are correct, we have to either move the parties away from history or develop a process to resolve differences in the interpretation of history? The religious groups have not been able to resolve their differences in hundreds of years, how much of their difficulties been due to process and lack of expertise?
- He talks about the need to understand the “transformational” role of shared spiritual convictions or values on negotiations. If achieving shared spiritual convictions or values are needed then do we start a dialogue between religions or with the differences within the various communities in the same religious group? What if the letter is asking exactly for such dialogue? What’s the process? Who has the expertise?
So far there has been one response to the initial blog entry on this topic indicating potential interest in an initiative by the mediation community to respond positively to the Muslim leader’s initiative. I hope the article in “The Economist” and Mr. Johnston’s observations serve as powerful incentives for additional members of the mediation community to participate in considerations of a response to the Muslim leader’s letter, and, it appears, a growing Christian leadership response.
By the next blog entry we are committed to ascertain who might be “anchoring” the Muslim leadership initiative and the Christian response from this point on. I’m also surprised no one has come in and said, “Don’t spend your time on this area because we already have a hold on the letter, the parties, next steps and the processes and the expertise by which to go about responding to it from a mediation services perspective.” If there is, please don’t keep it a secret.