Disarming Conflict: A book review

Disarming Conflict: Why peace cannot be won on the battlefield. By Ernie Regehr. Between the Lines, 2015.

Reviewed by Jennifer Wiebe, director of the Ottawa Office. This review originally appeared in The Catalyst.

“Peace, no less than politics, is the art of the possible,” writes Ernie Regehr (O.C.). Regehr is widely respected as a peace researcher, security and disarmament specialist, and co-founder of Project Ploughshares. In this book, he unravels our deeply-entrenched assumptions about both the inevitability and efficacy of military force in resolving conflict.

Regehr’s personal convictions naturally inform his work. But the thesis of Disarming Conflict doesn’t hinge on moral arguments against war. Therein lies its strength. It is meticulously researched and rigorous in its analysis. Regehr is concerned with what actually works for achieving peace and stability.

DisarmingConflict (300x450)The first half of the book examines the ways in which military force has been “predictably ineffective” in settling highly complex political disputes over that last quarter century. After spreading loss and destruction, the overwhelming majority (85%) of intrastate and international wars end in a desperate military stalemate. They are then settled at the same negotiating tables avoided at the outset.

The second half of the book shifts to Regehr’s central theme of “disarming conflict.” It lays out practical prescriptions for preventing and de-escalating war. This includes political diplomacy, human security, small arms control, nuclear disarmament, and the protection of vulnerable populations through peace support operations.

For any self-proclaimed “realist” who may be inclined to dismiss anything written by a peace activist, this is no work of utopian fantasy. Disarming Conflict is evidence-based and entirely practical. It challenges the myth that there are no real alternatives to violence for achieving regional, national, and global interests.

Effectively realizing these alternatives requires a major shift away from devoting the lion’s share of our political and financial resources on the preparation for, and conduct of, war. Instead, we should invest in the kinds of nonviolent approaches and initiatives all-too-often sidelined in our national capitals. “It means building the conditions of positive peace as if our lives depended on it,” Regehr argues.

This book is essential reading for peace practitioners, military personnel, policy makers, ordinary citizens, and skeptics alike!

When he woke up, the monster was still there

By Nancy Sabas, Connecting Peoples Coordinator for MCC Guatemala/El Salvador. She is from Honduras. Her reflection was originally published on MCC’s Latin America Advocacy Blog.

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“When he woke up, the monster was still there”[i]: The conflict of Banana and Oil palm companies in La Blanca community.

Tell me, given that you are a journalist and I didn’t go to school:
Drying lagoons is equal to development?
Fumigating communities is equal to development?
I didn’t go to school, but I know that that is not development
I am illiterate and I know that that is a violation.”

– Farmer and community member of La Blanca community.

A couple of months ago, I travelled to the community of La Blanca to interview neighbours and leaders of the South Shore Communities in Defense of the Territory along with the Co-Country Representative of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the MCC Advocacy Analyst for Latin America and the Caribbean to learn more about the issues of monocrops and agro-industry in Guatemala.

I recognized the community immediately; I had seen it in the documentary “Ocos Despierta” produced by the Pastoral of the Earth from the Diocese of San Marcos, which we usually watch with the learning groups when discussing monoculture and agro-industries. The scene that always catches my attention is one with a man in the middle of the Zanjón Pacayá river who denounces the killing of fish, which he claims is caused by contamination from the toxic waste disposed of by the banana and oil palm companies in the area. This scene seemed peculiar for the language used, which not only reflects his concern about community subsistence, but also his love and anguish for a river that he understands as alive and in the process of being killed. This man´s connection with mother nature, as portrayed in that scene,  made me despise a little my own urbanity that has taught me to see nature as a mere resource.

Unfortunately, this poor understanding of nature as a commodity that can be abused and exploited is the legacy of a capitalist logic. Under this logic, the agroindustry of mono-cultures in communities such as La Blanca, Guatemala, is destroying ecosystems under the banner of development.

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Monoculture  is a growing industry. According to data from the National Agricultural Survey of 2014 (ENA), Guatemala’s second most important permanent crop, in terms of production volume, is oil palm. According to the ENA, palm oil production increased by 118% in 2014 compared to 2013. The cultivation of land for African palm, therefore also increased by 33%, compared 2013.[ii] Official data published by the ENA in previous years have shown inconsistencies compared to the data provided by the Union of Producers of Palm in Guatemala (GREMPALMA ) and other researchers, who estimate that the expansion of crops has been even greater.[iii]

Surely this industrial growth must be a reflection of an increase in cash flow. These mega-companies provide unskilled jobs and fund local infrastructure projects. Does this translate into an improvement in the quality of life for community members?

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“In the past we had three crops and now there’s only one,” says Eduardo Juarez, president of the organization of the 12 communities on the South Shore supported by local partner the Diocese of San Marcos, “There are children with skin diseases and respiration problems.” Another member added, “Our river Pacayá gave us fish for our own consumption and to sell.  People from Coatepeque and La Blanca used to come here to fish. In the winter the river regenerated through small ponds. The prairie area, El Tigre, had lizards, turtles and different species of animals. The Monticulo hill became known as the ‘charm’ because of the sounds of cocks crowing and other animals. Now, only the oil palm lives. It is unfortunate that 10 years have passed and nobody is doing anything. The prairie still appears on the map but it does no longer exist. This has affected our right to life and food”

Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva explains in an essay: “ Nature has been subjugated to the market as a mere supplier of industrial raw material and dumping ground for waste and pollution. It is falsely claimed that exploiting the Earth creates economic value and economic growth, and this improves human welfare. While human welfare is invoked to separate humans from the Earth and justify her limitless exploitation, all of humanity does not benefit. In fact most lose. Pitting humans against nature is not merely anthropocentric, it is corporatocentric”.[iv]

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Guatemala has failed to establish appropriate institutions or laws to oversee water use; this failure represents a huge accountability problem when agro industries, hydroelectric and mining companies use an enormous amount of water for their operations. The multinationals present in the community of La Blanca are Grupo HAME and BANASA. The Dole Fruit Company and Chiquita Banana are the main buyers of their banana production. According to local testimonies, the company BANASA and Group HAME had a legal conflict over the water coming from the river, the Ocosito, to perform their operations, leaving the community stuck in the middle.

According to members of La Blanca and independent investigations, companies use an estimated 40,000 gallons of water per minute. In a paper presented by the South Shore Communities in Defense of  the Territory in the IV TLA Public Hearing before the Latin American Water Tribunal, they state:

“The National Banana S.A. (BANASA) has built an irrigation and drainage system that connects the river Ocosito with the Pacaya River, which covers the entire planting and aims to control moisture conditions on the land. This causes two types of impacts to rural communities: (1) in summer / drought farmers suffer water shortage due to water extraction; upstream of the current with very low flow; and (2) in winter time/rainy season the population is affected by severe flooding increase in their crops and houses. In addition, the venting of water from the banana farms to the Pacayá river has caused industrial pollution and the presence of dead fish in it. (…) Multiple extraction authorizations are granted over rivers, generating conflict between companies and also between companies/communities, with the consequent reduction of flows that the communities need. The State has failed to conduct detailed studies of water systems.”[v]

Last year marked the 10th year of the struggle of the 12 communities of the South Shore. 10 years of demanding compensation for damages to communities, restoration of the prairies, closing off the canals and wells, the establishment of a water treatment system,conservation of rivers and the abolition of monocultures. 10 years full of dignity and resistance to a model that does not revere life.

“Confronting them feels like dealing with a monster” a member of the 12 communities of the South Shore reported. But somehow, that “monster” has been unable to silence their voices calling for justice and their right to good living.

Watch the Ocós documentary.

[i] Augusto Monterroso was a well recognized Guatemalan/Honduran writer, known for his one-sentence story:  ¨When he woke up, the Dinasour was still there”.

[ii] Republica de Guatemala: Encuesta Nacional Agropecuaria 2014.

[iii] Memorial de denuncia ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (2015) Washington. Mikkelsen, Vagn. (2013). Guatemala: Comercio Exterior, Productividad Agrícola y Seguridad Alimentaria Pg. 10

[iv] Vandana Shiva (2014) Economy Revisited. Will Green be the Colour of Money or Life?Global Research

[v] Resolucion Banano y su impacto en las fuentes de Agua Guatemala (2015) Tribunal Latinoamericano del Agua

Haiti is passionate

The international press offers a single narrative of Haiti – one of political instability, malnutrition, disease and devastation. “The poorest country in the Western hemisphere” – this is how Haiti is too often described, ignoring the many layers that comprise Haitian culture and customs and make Haiti one of the most fascinating yet least understood countries in the region.

In late May, four staff from MCC’s North American advocacy offices and the Colombia-based regional policy analyst visited Haiti for one week to engage with MCC Haiti partners with the goal of strengthening MCC’s Haiti advocacy work among its New York, Ottawa, Washington, Colombia and Port-au-Prince offices. During this time they got to encounter Haiti as it is, not as the sensationalist press so often describes it. What follows is Rebekah Sears’ description of Haiti as she experienced it. It originally was published on the MCC Haiti blog

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Members of CCODMIR and the Dominican human rights organization Centro Bono with the MCC team in Malpasse.  Photo/Ted Owald.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic (D.R.) are facing a migration crisis. For much of their history, tensions have been high between the two nations, most recently due to D.R. policies that discriminate against Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants. In 2013, a new law stripped tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship and, along with Haitian migrants, were made victim to sporadic and sometimes violent deportations to Haiti.

These policies and actions in the D.R. can be understood as a further attempt by the D.R. government to blame the country’s social and economic ills on Haitian migrants or Dominicans of Haitian descent, essentially scapegoating an entire group of people.

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When one person’s human rights are violated, everyone’s rights are violated.” — Pierre Garot Nere, Coordinator of CODDEMIR in Malpasse, Haiti. Photo/Anna Vogt.

During our journey in Haiti we spent time at the border, visiting those working on the front lines of this crisis. We met with members of a coalition of 15 Haitian groups, collectively known as CODDEMIR. For the past seven years, CODDEMIR (in English, the Collective of Organizations working for the Defence of Human Rights for Migrants and the Repatriated) has been pooling financial and human resources for one common goal of standing with the displaced from the D.R.

CODDEMIR engages in national and international advocacy on their behalf, through press releases, reporting, emergency assistance and education. Their passion and dedication spoke volumes to me; I felt hopeful creating a sense of hope as they shared their desire to protect  those who face difficult and divisive situations

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Stripped palms on Lake Peligre, in the border area of Malpasse. Photo/Anna Vogt.

The influx of people crossing the border since June 2015 has caused resentment in some Haitian communities. CODDEMIR has come alongside these communities to educate them about returnees’ needs. As a result, when CODDEMIR’s welcoming center is overcrowded, more local families and communities take displaced people into their homes.

Human rights groups, including CODDEMIR, are calling for significant action; action inside the D.R. to reverse laws discriminating against Haitians and those of Haitian descent, and action by the Haitian national government to come alongside migrants and also invest more in Haitian communities so people don’t feel they have to leave. They are also calling on the international community to pressure both governments to respond justly to the situation.

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In 2015 Michana (R) was living in the D.R. with her infant son. They were deported spontaneously and had no relations to help them on the Haiti side of the border. Miatrice (L) saw her crying on the side of the road and convinced her parents, who already had 8 people living in their home, to take them in. Terre Froide. Photo/Ted Barlow, Operation Blessing.

At the core, these organizations are calling for the recognition of our common humanity, encouraging all of us to welcome others, support each other, and stand together. In this, we can say that Haiti is passionate about welcoming and caring for others.

Rebekah Sears is a policy analyst with MCC’s Ottawa Office. 

A rich feast of peacebuilding flavours

My head and heart were very full at the end of the Global Mennonite Peacebuilding Conference and Festival hosted by Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario, June 9-12.  How could they not be, after three intense days of plenary sessions, workshops, a conversation café, a concert, a drama performance, art exhibits and a rich closing worship service?

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Making new friends. GMPCF photo/Jen Konkle

Two years in the making, the conference and festival brought together 200 peace practitioners, pastors, theologians, activists, students and others from 20 countries. From Canada to Colombia, from India to Indonesia, from Germany to Nigeria, we gathered to consider what it means to be Mennonite peacebuilders in unique and vastly different contexts.

There was much to celebrate about Mennonite peacebuilding, particularly with respect to the building of bridges across divides of fear and distrust. From Paulus Widjaja[1] of Indonesia we learned how, in the wake of the Asian tsunami and other disasters, local Mennonites worked alongside members of a militant Islamic groups to rebuild homes.  In working side by side, they became friends.  From Dann Pantoja[2] of the Philippines, we learned how a peacebuilders community has helped to foster reconciliation between separatist Muslims and evangelical Christians. From Christina Asheervadam[3]  of India we learned that restorative justice principles have fostered healing within families and within the Mennonite Brethren churches.

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A choir performs “Earth Peace” by Carol Ann Weaver. GMPCF photo/Jen Konkle

The celebration included stories of unique peace initiatives within local, national and international spaces. From Thandiwe Daka[4] of Zambia we learned how peace clubs for children and youth are transforming family and community life in parts of Africa. From Jenny Neme[5] and others from Colombia, we learned of how Anabaptist advocacy for peace has helped to bring about some legal provisions for conscientious objectors and to build momentum for a national ceasefire, after decades of war.  And from Fernando Enns[6] of Germany, we learned that Mennonite participation in the World Council of Churches over many decades has helped to nurture a growing commitment to peace and nonviolence within the worldwide Christian church.

Indeed, there was much to celebrate.  But the conference was not only about celebration.  It also invited us to name and reflect on failures in Mennonite peacebuilding.  And there were many.

Kim Penner[7] reminded us that Mennonite peace theology has neglected to adequately address violence against women.  Lisa Schirch[8] pointed out that Mennonites have often been quicker to love the offender than the victim of violence.  In a facilitated dialogue, Leah Gazan[9] and Steve Heinrichs[10] insisted that Mennonites have only begun to consider what decolonization means in the Canadian context and what reconciliation between Indigenous and Settler people will require. Regina Shands Stolzfus[11] and Tobin Miller Shearer[12] were even more hard-hitting, saying that “white Mennonite peacemaking” is an oxymoron; in their view, white Mennonites rarely dare to consider their privilege of “whiteness” and this failure keeps them from genuine and authentic peacemaking. Numerous voices reminded us that Mennonites are often better at peacebuilding outside of our own churches and communities than within them.

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Lots of conversation.  GMPCF photo/Jen Konkle

We also heard voices of caution and concern.  For example, Alain Epp Weaver[13] issued a caution against what he called “Christian pacifist triumphalism” – the notion that Mennonite peacemaking will always “work” and that we will have an answer for every violent context.  At some times, he insisted, “the most faithful response is silence, mourning and lament.” Tom Yoder Neufeld[14] insisted that Mennonite peacebuilders remember that Jesus – the crucified One – is our peace; without that remembrance he said, “Our theology will become an ideology of nonviolence.” And there was the plea from Betty Pries[15]  and Ted Koontz[16] that peacemaking is not so much about what we do as who we are – people of peace, with a heart of peace.

There was also the poignant story of KyongJung[17] Kim of South Korea, who spoke of what it means to be a conscientious objector in his country – namely, serving an 18-month prison sentence.  Describing his own personal journey to pacifism, Kim insisted that a Mennonite peace church will grow – not through comfort — but through difficulty and adversity.

So what does it mean to be a Mennonite or Anabaptist peacebuilder today?  The conversation café produced an abundance of ideas and images which were translated into the “wordle” below. The point was not to arrive at a consensus definition, but rather to engage as many participants as possible in exploring what they see as core to Mennonite peacebuilding.  The conversation hinted at the tension between those who see Mennonite peacebuilding as a set of well-honed tools and practices and those who see it primarily as a faith orientation and spiritual identity. It also alluded to the reality that, despite the conference’s deliberate efforts to involve Mennonites from the global south, those from the global north continue to have an undue influence in articulating what Mennonite peacebuilding is all about.

Wordle from GMPCFIn many ways, the conference was like a vast feast with an amazing array of dishes – each one offering a new flavour on Mennonite peacebuilding.  No wonder I felt full to the brim.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, with Rebekah Sears and Jennifer Wiebe, of the Ottawa Office.  

 

[1] Paulus Widjaja is Director of the Center for the Study and Promotion of Peace, Duta Wacana Christian University, Jogjakarta, Indonesia.
[2] Dann Pantoja, works with Peacebuilders Community, under Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Philippines.
[3] Christina Asheervadam is Director of the Center for Peace & Conflict Resolution Studies with the Mennonite Brethren Centenary Bible College in India.
[4]Thandiwe Daka is from Zambia and is a participant in MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program.
[5 Jenny Neme is Director of Justapaz, Bogota, Colombia.
[6] Fernando Enns is Professor of Theology and Ethics at Vrije Universiteit (Free University) in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Director of the Institute of Peace Church Theology at the University of Hamburg, Germany. He sits on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.
[7] Kim Penner is a doctoral student in theology at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre.
[8] Lisa Schirch is Research Professor at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.
[9] Leah Gazan is a member of Wood Mountain Lakota Nation in Treaty 4 territory; she teaches at the University of Winnipeg.
[10] Steve Heinrichs is Director of Indigenous Relations for Mennonite Church Canada.
[11] Regina Shands Stolzfus is Assistant Professor of Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies at Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana, USA.
[12] Tobin Miller Shearer is Associate Professor of History at the University of Montana, USA.
[13] Alain Epp Weaver is Director of Strategic Planning for Mennonite Central Committee, Akron, PA, USA.
[14] Thomas Yoder Neufeld is retired from teaching New Testament Studies at Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, ON.
[15] Betty Pries is a mediator and trainer with L3 Group/ARC Ministries, Waterloo, Canada.
[16] Ted Koontz is retired from teaching Ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, IN, USA.
[17] KyongJung Kim is Northeast Asia representative for Mennonite World Conference, Waterloo, ON.