Interview: From war heroes to peace heroes

Part of the interview for Dutch magazine “The Left Cheek” (“De Linker Wang) in English

You have been involved in various projects around the world. What impressed you the most? Could people there make the difference by applying nonviolence?

My period in Israel-Palestine made the most impression. Your first thought is that the powerful party, namely Israel, must change. A good example of this is the pilots who refused to bomb Gaza in 2002. However, Gene Sharp said in an interview that he did not expect change to come from the Israelis because they can ignore the occupation, while the Palestinians have to live under it every day. Palestinians have less power when it comes to violence, but with non-violent actions they may be able to achieve something. You see the success of it in the village Bil’in, where Muslims and Christians gained two thirds of their land back: Israel has broken down the wall that ran across their land and built it elsewhere. You can also see in other examples that unity or togetherness, despite differences, religious or otherwise, are important for achieving success. (See the book “Why Civil Resistance Works”, a study of violent versus non-violent revolutions, which showed that non-violent groups are nearly 2.5 times as effective as violent groups.)

We are unconsciously inclined to believe in violence. We can get a different mindset through training. My project is called Towards an Nonviolent World, because it is about striving for: being completely nonviolent is a utopia, but I can cultivate nonviolence in myself and stimulate it in others. It is also important to develop respect for diversity in this globalized world. People fear that westernization will occur and therefore emphasize their differences, their identity. But if differences are not respected, they become a source of conflict. We must therefore find a balance between unity and diversity.

Discovering similarities and differences can also help to deal with a unique local situation. Social movements can learn from each other, as King did from Gandhi. In Liberia, women united during the Taylor dictatorship and held many different nonviolent actions to persuade men to conclude a peace agreement. This way the civil war came to an end in 2003. The two most important women, Leymah Gbowee and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the last to be appointed president in 2005, have received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. About two years ago some Liberian women traveled to Israel-Palestine with the film about their story “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” after which more than five thousand Israeli and Palestinian women organized a march for peace.

Your first publication will soon be published by Pace e Bene: “Engaging Nonviolence. Activating Nonviolent Change in Our Lives and Our World” (which can be ordered via: http://www.paceebene.org) Can we all behave nonviolently after reading this book?

Probably not by reading it, but by following the workshops from the book, yes. The book is a study guide with fifteen workshop sessions. During the workshops you will learn to apply knowledge and principles. The study guide is aimed at people who work with others, for example in education, youth work, municipalities etc. I would also like to reach activists, especially environmental activists, because I think the damage we cause to the Earth is a symptom of the mindset where violence is ‘normal’ or even a ‘solution’ for certain problems. And they can learn to communicate better, to not only speaking out against something, but also work on what you stand for, and to cooperate more and reach out to opponents.  You can disagree with your opponent, while still trying to involve them in a social dialogue.

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