Editorial Culture and Peace

by | May 4, 2024 | 0 comments

Editorial Huib Wursten

On 04 March 2024, Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the 55th session of the Human Rights Council, gave a global update to the Human Rights Council.

He said: “ The right to peace is the mother of all human rights. Without peace, all other rights are quashed. It is urgent that we devise ways to counter warmongering, fear and the illogic of escalating hatred and hostility – which bring short-term profit to a few while ruining the lives and rights of millions. We need to regain a mindset of peace. This means the art of de-escalation, keeping communication channels open, rebuilding trust, and the long-term work of healing and reconciliation – re-establishing a sense of the interconnectedness and shared destiny of all humanity.

Three of the articles in this special emphasize this mindset of peace.

They do that from different points of view: Gandhi’s ideas, a strong appeal of the Hiroshima survivors group, and the Ubuntu philosophy.

Two articles focus on the big political issues of this moment: the war in Ukraine and the fight between Israel and Hamas. Russian politician Yavlinsky writes about the escalation of hatred and hostility –ruining the lives and rights of millions. In line with the aforementioned Türk, he proposes to de-escalate and stop the killing immediately.

Knip’s article describes a project that aimed to create trust on the ground level by bringing Palestinian and Israeli city leaders together.

This Municipal Alliance for Peace in the Middle East (MAP) was a framework for Israeli-Palestinian municipal dialogue, with contributions from foreign municipalities and their associations and other international actors.  After a hopeful start, this project unfortunately failed. 

All articles emphasize that idealism is certainly important. However, to solve real-life problems, it is necessary to understand the nature of conflicts. It is a matter of sound reasoning that “In order to build bridges, it is necessary to know where the shorelines are.”  Many of these shorelines are cultural. Culture in this context means: strong collective value preferences.

Looking at the articles in this special from a cultural point of view key examples can be found

For instance:

  • Decision-making is taking different shapes in different cultures. 

In some cultures, there is a strong preference for involving stakeholders on the ground level, bottom up decision-making. This is not only tolerated by the powerholders but even promoted. In other cultures (actually in the majority of cultures in the world), top-down decision-making is preferred. not only by the powerholders but also by the others involved. It is seen as an existential fact of life. It is a “must “ to understand that as long as the leaders of these countries do not give consent first, ground-level initiatives are not taken seriously.  

Not understanding this, is one of the causes of failures in international cooperation.

  • Basic motivations for achievement can strongly differ. 

In some cultures, like the Anglo-Saxon countries (I refer to this cluster as “The Contest countries”), competition is seen as the basic driver of success. One consequence is the tendency to polarize. In some other cultures, the basic motivation is cooperation and consensus-seeking.

This difference comes back to a basic issue in conflict situations: “What to do with bullies?

If one of the parties is not willing to follow the rules of law reason and is not willing to negotiate about the content of the differences in interests. What to do if they are using power to overrun the interest of the other partner(s)?

The advice of experienced negotiators is relevant here: don’t start with power games. But if you are confronted with them, know how to play them and defend yourself. This is not natural for consensus-orientated countries.

One recent special element to be solved is what to do with asymmetrical warfare. A situation where a regular army is fighting an adversary hiding among the civilian population.

  • The direction of loyalty is the next important issue to clarify.

 In most cultures, people are supposed to be loyal to their in-group (tribe, ethnic group, religious group, etc.). In return for their loyalty, the in-group takes care of the people. In-group members are not supposed to ventilate individual opinions or openly criticize the in-group ideas. If they do that, they risk being removed from the in-group. 

In a limited number of countries, loyalty is to the position and rights of the Individual as an autonomous empowered member of the community. 

A well-known issue in the first type of countries is that in case of a conflict the attitude is caught by the phrase: “For my friends everything. For all others the rule of law”.

  • Time is an important cultural issue

Some cultures are short-term orientated. They aim to hold people accountable for what they are doing by measuring success and failure in an agreed-upon controllable timeframe. 

Some cultures are long-term orientated. An example here is the statement by Mao the former leader of the People’s Republic of China. He was asked what he thought about the results of the French Revolution. His answer: “It’s too early to decide”

  • Taking the cultural context of time and loyalty together.

In an interview in the New York Times, an expert on the Middle East said: “The four most dangerous words in the Middle East are we need to solve the conflict “once and for all” 

This is virtually impossible in countries with in-group loyalty as a central cultural driver. The harm done to the in-group by others stays quite long in the collective memory.

As an illustration, a story that is told about the Balkan war. A Bosnian says to a Serb: “Why are you killing our men and children and raping our women?”  Says the Serb: “but you did the same to us. You killed our men and children and raped our women.” “But”, the Bosnian said, ”This is 200 years ago” Answer by the Serb: “Can be, but I only heard about it yesterday!”

In the articles of this special you’ll find more examples of cultural misunderstandings. Reading the articles is highly recommended.


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