The discussions I was privy to during the three day Hewlett 2002 meeting indicated the need to continue exploring new models for analyzing conflict. The Coexistence Initiative has, since its inception, promoted the use of coexistence as a pragmatic lens through which to view human relations and seek to ameliorate them. This has been of great use, especially when seeking to frame a conflict in a way which emphasizes the disputants’ right to disagree, while calling for an end to violence, and seeking to establish tolerance and mutual respect. However, as we are shown on a daily basis, regardless of whether you call it coexistence, dispute resolution, or conflict transformation, much work still needs to be done in this area.
A fundamental task facing those working in the coexistence and related fields is to understand where human interaction breaks down into violence, and then to challenge this process. Coexistence, although gracefully simple in its manifestation, is complex in its implementation, both relying upon and impacting a myriad of factors such as security, equality, and reconciliation in a continuing and dynamic process. The inability to coexist threatens not only individual and intercommunal relations, but also increasingly international and geopolitical stability.
There exist a number of theories that speak to the nature and cause of violent conflicts such as the lasting impact of decolonization, both the instrumental and affective mobilization of group identities to fulfill political ends, and economic inequality. However, one less frequently discussed core component of the inability to coexist, which I would like to explore here, is the role of fear.
Fear is not a new phenomenon to those working in conflict zones, but apart from practitioners who specialize in this area, an approach based on understanding and overcoming fear is an underused paradigm in the coexistence field. It would be of merit to develop interventions focused on working through fear as a part ofpeacebuilding, as even individual fear should not be relegated solely to the realm ofpsychosocial assistance. It relates to the larger framework ofpeacebuilding and security through the deteriorative influence it has on coexistence, and must be addressed as such.
In fact, the levels of fear and anxiety we are currently witnessing around the globe demand that practitioners and researchers explore ways of dealing with fear at the individual and group levels as part of an overall strategy towards coexistence. The fear experienced in the US after September 11, 2001 has allowed for continuous perpetuation of overly simplistic myths regarding the motivation behind the attacks. This type of oversimplification fosters the ‘with us or against us’ perspective which has dominated US foreign policy since. The same scenario can be found in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with hatred and despair spiral ing out of control on both sides, stemming from fear and anger that are not being constructively addressed. Within Israel itself the need to address the fears experienced by individuals and groups has been cited as a priority in attempts to foster coexistence between Arab and Jewish citizens.’
In a world still struggling with the horrors of the last century while dealing with the tragedies taking place in this one, increased interdependence and rapidly shifting borders point to the prioritization of human security a security paradigm which shifts the traditional focus from security of the state to the security of the individual as a critical step towards providing enduring stability.2 Coexistence is an essential building block in a system of human security. Therefore, exploring the link between fear, coexistence, and human security is crucial.
There are two types of fear: physical fear, caused by a threat to physical survival, and psychological fear, caused by a threat to psychological survival. There is a fluid border between psychological and physical fear, with sustained physical fear often leading to feelings of helplessness and desperation which then manifest themselves in the development of’negative’ psychological patterns. Thus the roots of some psychological fears may lie in physical causes, and of others in purely psychological causes. Lack of awareness as to the root cause, on the part of the person experiencing the fear, can lead to legitimization of a psychological fear as if it were grounded in a real physical threat. This can be a highly destructive process; when we are afraid, we have the highest probability of becoming and doing what we most fear and protest in others.
For instance, fear of losing the image of self can lead to an annihilation of the identity image of the other, especially if both parties claim mutually exclusive identity elements or have incompatible perceptions of their histories. This can lead to the deliberate dehumanization of the other, in order to legitimize one’s own identity. Another example is how the fear effacing one’s own pain or responsibility, a necessary step in the path to forgiveness and reconciliation, can trap individuals into a series of avoidance patterns through which they unconsciously inflict harm on others. In this scenario, fear can lead to actions ranging from indifference to tyranny.
These examples of possible individual reactions to psychological fear start to describe obstacles encountered in conflict transformation and reconciliation, and can be projected, with some modification, onto group psychology as well. Inasmuch as these scenarios contribute to the breakdown of coexistence, they are also indicative of impediments to fostering and maintaining human security. Additionally, and no less importantly, the fear experienced by those who work in this field must be examined with regards to the impact it has on their ability to contribute. Psychological fears can lead to deeply rooted prejudices so hidden from ourselves that we are not aware of them.
Many psychological fears, however, can be overcome when the desire to do so exists. In facing these fears, individuals can free themselves from the negative subconscious patterns which control much of human interaction. As fear is identified and confronted, it can lose its unconscious grip on the psyche, releasing within the individual the power to choose to act differently. Exploring ways of enriching this phenomenon would be an active contribution to building coexistence.
We are moving inexorably towards a system of increased interdependence of actions and consequences at all levels. This is borne out by recent tragic events, and a nascent awareness of the need for new responses. A current report indicates the belief of top U.S. and Allied military commanders that peace operations abroad are vital components of U.S. national security.3 The implications of this report hint at a potential shift to a new model for analyzing cause and effect in the conflict field. Viewed from within such a paradigm, it becomes apparent that addressing the role which fear plays in breaking down coexistence is essential to the strengthening of human security.
As part of the work being done in this area. The Coexistence Initiative is currently working to develop a global Coexistence Awareness Raising campaign, which will seek to increase understanding of the need to place coexistence at a premium, in order for human security to become a viable option. This campaign will target audiences ranging from grassroots organizations to senior level policy makers, with an emphasis on how all sectors of society can contribute actively to making coexistence a reality.
1 Interim Progress Report, 2001-2002. The Abraham Fund
2 “Freedom From Fear Canada’s Foreign Policy for Human Security”, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada, (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
3 “-4 Force for Peace and Security: U.S. and Allied Commanders View of the Military’s Role in Peace Operations and the Impact on Terrorism of States in Conflict”, A project of the Peace Through Law Education Fund, March 2002 (www.ptlef.org)