By Kyong Mazzaro, Saad Saad and Peter T. Coleman
Throughout history, conflict resolution in the Arab world has been infused with Arab and Islamic culture, albeit shaped by differences in ethnic and political regimes and policies. However, over the last two decades, the peace-building and conflict resolution efforts undertaken by civil society and non-governmental organizations in the Middle East and North Africa have been on the rise. Although often rooted in local approaches and established intellectual traditions, these efforts are informed by the social-scientific study of peace and conflict, and are part of what could be thought of as a contemporary approach to conflict resolution in the region.
In 2005, colleagues working in conflict resolution and peace-building in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Palestine and Syria approached Columbia University’s International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution with a request for science-based resources on constructive engagement made available in Arabic. Over the last 10 years, this demand inspired the development of a series of Columbia University-led initiatives organized around the idea of constructive engagement in the Arab world. Now housed at the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity at the Earth Institute, these projects have focused on creating spaces to share ideas, perspectives, approaches and challenges around the idea of conflict resolution in Arabic-speaking countries. Importantly, they have also focused on making available conflict resolution resources in Arabic.
The multi-year project started in 2006, when the translation of Columbia University’s Handbook of Conflict Resolution into Arabic began. The handbook, edited by Professor Emeritus Morton Deutsch, Psychology Professor Peter T. Coleman and conflict resolution expert Eric Marcus, is known for being a foundational reference for leading-edge research, practice and education. This initiative was made possible through a generous donation of Teachers College’s alumna Marla Schaefer and the involvement of NYU Professor of Global Affairs Naira Musallam, who at the time was a doctoral student at the Social-Organizational Psychology Program at Teachers College.
The basic idea behind translating the book was to provide individuals and organizations working in Arabic-speaking countries with an evidence-based resource that would be useful in their conflict resolution and peace-building work, and that would serve as a reference to promote constructive debate and research collaboration.
In October 2012, after the completion of the first Arabic translation of the handbook, a two-day meeting to discuss the cultural relevance and utility of the book was convened in New York. The gathering involved Arabic-speaking conflict resolution academics and local practitioners from Iraq, Lebanon and the United States.
In the context of the Arab Spring, and with mounting concerns around peace and stability in the region, the main objective of the meeting was to examine the translation with reference to its cultural sensitivity and practical utility for working with local Arab audiences. More broadly, the goal of the gathering was to explore ways to increase collaboration and research on peace and conflict in the region.
At the meeting, it became clear that although there were limitations in terms of the U.S.-based nature of the scholarship of the book, the importance and potential impact of sharing the resource to promote dialogue and evidence-based practice in the region was significant. Inspired by the meeting, a team led by Alma Jadallah, member of the Peace Building Academy in Lebanon and director of the conflict resolution consulting firm Kommon Denominator, started working on revising the translation in consultation with Arabic-speaking conflict resolution scholars and practitioners.
In 2014, the group’s focus turned to ensuring that relevant organizations, academic institutions and key stakeholders in the Arab world learned about and gained access to the handbook. With this in mind, through a partnership with Saad Saad, co-founder of the Arab Organization for Dialogue, Peace and Collaboration and a graduate of Columbia University’s Program on Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, the bilingual English-Arabic handbook was provided online as a public conflict resolution resource. The complete 28 chapters of the book were made available for download free of charge.
Over the last six months, the website received more than 3,000 visits from 88 countries and close to 300 book requests from scholars, individuals, and local and international NGOs. The interest in establishing partnerships with educational institutions and organizations in the region to promote culturally relevant approaches to conflict resolution, curriculum development and the use of evidence-based resources is clearly mounting.
The consortium established a strategic partnership with Search for Common Ground for a project focused on building capacity of a new generation of Arabic-speaking dialogue design and dialogue facilitation experts, and to celebrate, research and reward best dialogue practices. The intended collaboration between scholars, program managers and program coordinators will contribute to curriculum development and educational offerings that would develop and enhance community dialogue in the Middle East and North Africa. The Arabic edition of the Handbook of Conflict Resolution will be utilized as a foundational resource to develop additional core curricula and resources that would support the objectives highlighted.
However, there is still a great deal to be done in terms of developing and disseminating culturally relevant research and evidence-based approaches to conflict resolution in the region. We hope that the Arabic Handbook project serves to stimulate other such initiatives aimed at negotiating constructively for a more tolerant and peaceful world.