Understanding ’emotion’ in a Passage to Africa

This reflection explains how social psychological research on emotion inform my work in peacebuilding. My aim is to discuss how the study of emotion can improve our understanding of violent conflicts. I begin by explaining an excerpt from a memoir of a British journalist, George Alagiah, who worked in conflict prone areas across Africa.  In a Passage to Africa,[1] George Alagiah has captured a vivid passage about embarrassment in Somalia during the civil war in 1991. He writes:

And then there was the face I will never forget…I saw that face for only a few seconds, a fleeting meeting of eyes before the face turned away, as its owner retreated into the darkness of another hut. In those brief moments there had been a smile, not from me, but from the face. It was not a smile of greeting, it was not a smile of joy – how could it be? – but it was a smile nonetheless. It touched me in in a way I could not explain. It moved me in a way that went beyond pity or revulsion. What was it about the smile? I had to find out. I urged my translator to ask the man why he had smiled. He came back with an answer. ‘It’s just that he was embarrassed to be found in this condition,’ the translator explained. P. 104

The quote underscores the significant role of emotion in understanding how people deal with the reality of violent conflicts. The man was embarrassed because he was helpless – helpless for being in the presence of a foreign journalist, and being unable to help his family especially  women who despite the utter despair of the war “aspire to a dignity that is almost impossible to achieve.” P. 105.  Thus, the presence of a foreign other, and the presence of helpless women increased the man’s self-reported embarrassment (Omar and Collet, 2013). Furthermore, considering that Somali people are Muslims, a woman who is unable to cover her head experiences pain. The pain is even more for the man because of his identity as a protector.

Probably, the civil war has constrained this man’s ability to perform his most salient identities (father, protector, Muslim etc.) and has therefore generated embarrassment (Stryker, 1987). War terrorizes people’s lives and renders them helpless. Therefore, I would expect that in such a situation, it is normal to feel overwhelmed, and even a need to cry or display anger. But in the case of the Somali man, the societal feeling rules do not encourage men to cry or show their helplessness (Hochschild 1979). Hence, he must manage the negative feelings in a manner acceptable in his culture. His smile manages the outer impression but does it address his feelings (Goffman 1959)? Moreover, if the war persists, this man’s salient identities may never be verified. Thus, he will experience more negative emotions. He may address this by changing his identity to that of a refugee or victim (Stets 2005).  The expectations for this identity will be different.

The study of emotion will help people who intervene (humanitarian workers) in these psychological phenomena or conflict situations to be more useful to victims, that is, help them manage negative emotions (Kidder and Sharp 2013). Even people in conflict contexts will always attempt to maximize the experience of positive emotions, and minimize the experience of negative emotions (Ekman, 2003 cited in Kidder and Sharp 2013). Furthermore, during a war, negative emotions can persist for a long time when individuals are unable to manage them. According to Thomas Scheff, these emotions gather incredible force. For instance, “rather than only being ashamed, one is ashamed. One can also become ashamed when angry, and angry that one is ashamed, round and round, resulting in ‘humiliated fury.’[2] This humiliated fury might be the basis of violence or revenge. However, experiencing negative emotions does not essentially lead to violence as other social influences must be considered. (Gillan 1996) studied shame and identified three conditions necessary for shame to cause violence: (1) the shame must be a secret (2) the perpetrator perceives no other alternative than violence and (3) the perpetrator lacks the inhibiting emotion such as love or guilt. It is therefore possible that the study of emotion may lead to a theory of origins of extreme violence.[3]

(Thoits 1989) observes that most social psychologists study emotion as a dependent variable – a product of social influences. But social influences can also be a product of emotions. Arlie Hochschild, in her latest book, Strangers in their own land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,[4] writes about “people segregating themselves into different emotionally toned enclaves- anger here, hopefulness and trust there.” P.6.  Thus, categorization in this case is influenced by emotions. Hochschild was interested in understanding empathy walls, and how people can cross those walls. She defines empathy walls as barriers that prevent us from understanding the other, barriers that make us develop negative emotions to people who hold different beliefs from us. Although this study of emotion and how it influences social identity is based on Tea Party members in Louisiana (which she considers the center of American right), its results can be generalized to other populations across the US.   The methods of studying emotions takes the form of experiments, surveys, ethnographies, and in-depth interviews or a combination of the above (Sharp and Kidder 2013), given that most contexts are different especially conflict prone contexts, one wonders what to consider before generalizing results of a study.

In conclusion, the study of emotion is significant to our understanding of justice processes. Stets (2005) talks about the process by which justice is attained as being like that by which an individual’s identity is verified. But of interest to me, is how emotions change in Restorative Justice, and how they influence the identity of the victim and the offender.  Scholars generally agree that restorative justice is about relationships as opposed to the law (Llewellyn 2012, Zehr 2003). When harm is caused, a relationship is affected, and depending on the intensity of the harm caused, the victim might feel sad, depressed, helpless, humiliated etc. Restorative justice is supposed to address the harm caused and restore the relationship. An acknowledgement of the harm by the offender enables the victim to move from, say anger to compassion.

[1] Alagiah, G (2001). A Passage to Africa. (London: Abacus)

[2] Scheff, T (2010) Shooting Spree: A Response to Constant Humiliation, The Huffington Post

[3] Gilligan, J (1996). Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic. (New York: Vintage)

[4] Hochschild, A (2016). Strangers in their own land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. (New York: The New Press)

Delegitimating Human Rights Organizations

Delegitimating Human Rights Organizations

Last year while working with an Israeli Human Rights organization in Jerusalem, I had an opportunity to see the State of Israeli through Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compare B’Tselem (a human rights organization) activists to traitors, and condemned all the Israeli human rights organizations. This happened partly because of B’Tselem’s support of the United Nations whose agency, UNESCO, had passed a resolution that denied the connection of the Jewish people to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in Jerusalem. These events created a backlash against human rights organizations in Israel, and raised important questions on the issue human rights organizations and how they obtain their legitimacy?

Through various readings I have been able to explore that question, particularly, the State of Israel’s attempts in delegitimizing human rights organizations. My reflection seeks to answer the following questions: Can external validity such as the one provided by the international community legitimate Israeli human rights organizations in the absence of local support? Why do countries and leaders who often question the legitimacy of institutions such as the United Nations selectively rely on these same organizations to legitimate some of their local actions?  How can we explain the process of through which members of Israeli human rights organizations such Breaking the Silence lose their legitimacy considering that while serving as soldiers they were considered heroes? Does this lead to incompatibility?

These questions about the challenge of the legitimacy of Israeli human rights organizations occupies has occupied a central place in debates in Israeli and international media since last year. If legitimacy is a matter of consent (Zelditch, 2006), where do human rights organizations derive their legitimacy from, and given that they fight regimes and systems that perpetuate inequality, do they need any kind of consent to operate? Those eager to discredit human rights organizations in Israel argue that the organizations have lost touch with daily lives of Israelis, and that is why they are investing their efforts on the global front because they have lost all hope of generating change in Israeli public opinion.[1] They further argue that since the human rights organizations receive substantial amounts of funding from foreigners, they should not be trusted. Last year the state of Israeli passed a law that regulates Israeli human rights organizations.[2] The law undermines the legitimacy of the organizations by limiting their funding, and requiring them to state that they rely on foreign funding in all communication with the public and on TV, newspapers, billboards and online. The law also requires representatives of human rights organizations to declare that they depend on foreign contributions to the heads of parliamentary committees when participating in meetings. The idea here is to represent the organizations as deriving authority from foreign governments that fund them. Thus, questioning their legitimacy. Did they succeed? Although, I do not have statistics or any research to enable me to answer that question, through observation, and talking to Israelis as well as Palestinians, I learned that human rights organizations do not enjoy much support in the Israeli society.

Since the State of Israel presents itself as a democratic state akin to Western European or North American countries, the human rights organizations can claim legitimacy by appealing to norms, values, beliefs, practices, or procedures that are already accepted in a democratic society (Zelditch, 2006). But such a claim to legitimacy will only succeed to the extent that whatever it appeals to has already been accepted in Israel. For instance, the generally accepted human rights laws and conventions such as International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Convent on Civil Rights, and Universal Declaration on Human Rights. One will then expect that a country like Israel will allow human rights organizations to freely operate or better still, stop violating human rights. Unfortunately, the reality is different. So, how can human rights organizations in Israel gain legitimacy?

According to Zelditch, they need to challenge pregiven structures in Israeli society. These structures encompass norms, values, beliefs, purposes, practices, or procedures that legitimate power (Zelditch, 2006). They should strive to build local consensus “in specific, concrete situations out of whatever structure is pregiven and the specific circumstances of the situation” (Zelditch, 2006. P. 347).

NOTES

[1] Shlomi Eldar (2016). Why human rights NGOs are losing support of Israel Public. Al-Monitor, accessed on 3/27/2017 http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/en/originals/2016/10/israel-human-rights-ngos-losing-israeli-public.html

[2] Cook Jonathan (2016). Israel seeks to publicly shame human rights groups. Aljazeera, accessed on 3/27/2017 http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/07/israel-seeks-publicly-shame-human-rights-groups-160717070527290.html

Zelditch, M (2006). “Legitimacy theory” in Contemporary Social Psychological Theories. (California: Stanford University Press)

Thoughts on Sohail Hashmi’s Saving and Taking Life in War: Three Modern Views

Thoughts on Sohail Hashmi’s Saving and Taking Life in War: Three Modern Views

Human life is priceless. The Quran 6: 51 and 25: 68 cautions, “Do not slay the soul sanctified by God, except for just cause.” Sohail Hashmi has explored the views of modern scholars on when to preserve life and when to take it. He focuses on modern scholars because they seek to reinterpret the grounds for war – classical scholars were mainly preoccupied with how to conduct war because to them war was a norm; hence, one did not need to develop principles on when to go to war. Hashmi’s focus on modern scholars is also informed by the presence international law which is at tandem with Islamic. Hashmi discusses the views of Abu al Mawdudi, the founder of Jama ‘at-I Islam, Muhammad Hamidullah, and Wahba al- Zuhayli. The three scholars adopt the same methodology and substance in the study of the theory of jihad and more importantly they mostly concur on the ethics of killing and saving life. This article will examine their views on jus ad bellum.

Mawdudi’s position is that of the Quran: only a just cause can justify taking a life, otherwise human life is sacred (Q6:151). According to Mawdudi just cause can be defensive or reformative. He contends that life can be taken in the case of homicide, when one is retaliating. Though he does not explain the rationale behind this, one can deduce that a murder is a danger to the society, hence should not be allowed to live.  This position is however controversial given the recent debates on death sentence; whether human beings do have a right to take another life in contexts out of war. Mawdudi’s also argues that one who opposes the spread of Islam or one who spreads disorder in the domain of Islam has no right to hold onto his or her life. He further adds two more justifications from the hadith, namely: adultery and apostasy. These are contested justifications in the modern era. Issues such as apostasy have elicited a lot of debate in the recent past. The changing landscape in the nature of religion and its relationship with the state has necessitated some scholars to argue that apostasy ought to be redefined in the contemporary world where separation of state and religion is the norm. Why would anybody be killed for turning his back on a religion?

Hamidullah contends that Muslims have always thought of war as something unavoidable, but not desired. Like Mawdudi he also points out that life can be taken in the case of defense. But he goes further to include other justifications such as sympathetic, and punitive.  He explains that Muslims can take lives in war where they are defending their allies.

Zuhayli on his part contends that war is a necessary aspect of human existence, one sanctioned by the Quran for self-defense and preserving a just society.  Like Mawdudi, he argues that war can be waged against those who block the preaching of Islam. He does not explain how the explosion of technology affects the way Islam is preached or how the ever tight state borders affect the preaching of Islam. Whereas it was easier to enforce this justification in the early centuries of Islam, the modern world poses numerous challenges. There are now laws which stipulate what one can do beyond the borders of his or her country. Nowadays, preaching is an activity that is well undertaken by none state actors who do not have much power compared to governments.

The three scholar’s views on jus in bello are well aligned with the Geneva conventions and the Just War Theory. They all draw a distinction between combatants and ex-combatants and then goes ahead to state that ex-combatants must not be killed. They also concur that prisoners of war should not be killed; instead, they should be set free or ransomed. On Weapons of Mass Destructions, the scholars disagree. Mawdudi argues that Muslims are obliged to develop and acquire all types of weapons (Q 8:60). Zuhayla contents that WMD should be permitted but must only be used as a last resort and only in retaliation.

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