Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Phenomenological Reflection on Ethnic Conflict

Editor's Note: It is my pleasure to publish this important and honest reflection from one of my Qualitative Methods students. The personal is the professional.

By: Safeer Tariq Bhatti

Growing up in America, one of the biggest difficulties I had was trying to be like the population I embraced every day. But, exclusion and the definition that I was not one of them was paramount. On the school bus, there was not segregation against black and white, but segregation against difference. My difference was my normalcy in many things, my difference in color, my simple clothing, my simple English and my simple habits. I wanted to be the best simply, but I was not the best in many things. I never knew what challenge was until I received it-until given the opportunity to be better than those who made me an outcast in every way possible. Once I achieved beyond the norm, my acceptance gained prominence.

Throughout my experiences, I could not understand why my ethnicity- why ME, was not accepted here in America. I thought going to my birth place, to a place that looks like me, acts like me and feels like me would accept, but they did not too. I had no identity. My identity was disputed. My territory was disputed. One day, when I was very young, I went to the Beach and I was sitting in the water and the sun gazed on our brown backs. In the water, they were many people that all looked like me. But, as I got closer, everyone had their own groups. Each group was speaking their own language and their own culture. This culture and that language were all different. People prided on their languages and their cultures. As you got closer to each group, each group would say that they are better than anyone- better than all the groups. One nation was so different. They were all Pakistani, but they all said we were different from each other. They all said we are better from each other. Why?

Why were they different in a country which makes them not? Why I was still not accepted? There is exclusivity in a homogeneous population and this exclusivity causes conflict.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Youth Development Is Security: Cairo Edition

Youth development, as I’ve developed a habit of saying, is security. As we have all watched unrest, riots and protests throughout Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordon, and previously in Iran, I continue to believe this truth.

Numerous analysts have noted how young “the Arab world” (we’ll set aside the fuzziness of that term for now) is. Stanford reports that 37% of Tunisia’s population is young (defined as 15-29). The median age in Yemen, according to the CIA Factbook, is 17. A full 50% of the country is of “working age”—25- 64. For context, the literacy rate in this country, in which the US has been using predator drones, is 50%. Nearby in Egypt, where tanks have been rolling onto the streets as I type, the median age is 24! 63% of the population are between 15-64. (It’s worth noting that Egypt’s literacy rate, at 71%, is significantly higher, which will matter greatly for Egypt’s future.) All of these countries grapple with high unemployment which may well be connected to the global financial crisis (at least in Egypt).

(Click here to watch Frontline’s Egypt: Middle East, Inc. which features a youth development effort.)

I rehearse this data, of course, because it so powerfully underlines an insight that I think is key to understanding the urgency of peace education, which again is precisely that “youth development is security”. Elsewhere I’ve written that I think there is great potential in peace education to “inoculate” young people against extremist views, whether it might be the mercenary violence of an MS13 or the more ideologically-driven terrorism of Al-Qaeda. So what then should we as peace educators be doing now? How can US educators help American students to understand what is unfolding? And how can teachers and schools in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and elsewhere, equip their students for a rapidly changing future in an increasingly armed and global world?

US educators might begin by opening discussions with their high school students (who are almost certain to be excited to begin driving) about where our oil comes from and the role it has played in shaping our foreign policy. The might also note that, as numerous media outlets have reported, the tear-gas cannons fired in Cairo at the protestors were made in the USA. Do today’s students feel this is right? What about the military aid we’ve given to Mubarak? This is also an exquisitely teachable moment regarding civil liberties and the rights to assemble, to peacefully protest and to petition one’s government, which every human being should have.

I won’t presume to explain to teachers or educational leaders in the Arab world what to do with this teachable moment. But there is some general wisdom from some of the founders of peace education, such as Freire and Montessori, that may be of use here. One insight is that schools too often are instruments of the state. Naturally this is even more the case when regimes are repressive and so use schools as instruments of repression. I would imagine some educators in these schools observe this daily. This use of schools as mechanisms of autocracy can often occur, for example, through plain censorship of what’s taught to encouraging one-sided views of history, lionizing accepted leaders, demonizing the opposition or (more subtly but crucially) shaping curriculum that encourages rote memorization, discourages critical and creative thinking and fosters individualism over community and collaboration. If democracy, or even “mere” good governance in any society is to be fostered or maintained, such an oppressive approach to education must be peacefully revolutionized.