Sunday, March 25, 2007

Solving the World’s Conflicts

Daniel and I sat down with Aaron and Sandra. It seemed like at least a month since I had lunched with Aaron and Sandra at the famous Leopold’s restaurant in Mumbai. However, it had only been a little over a week. Time goes so much slower in India than back home.

Remembering that Aaron was also a vegetarian, I asked him what the food was like that he had ordered. He was having, amongst other things, the spring rolls from the Chinese section of the menu. Many restaurants in India often have an Indian section and also a Chinese section. I ordered some and indeed they were excellent. They were the best ever spring rolls and chill sauce I could recall having, with the notable exception of the Katong Singaporean restaurant, which my family unfortunately became unofficially blacklisted from. No, we didn’t name names. Rather my sister and Mother tried to improvise on an order. I could see that the unfortunate waiter who didn’t speak English (“Please, just point to a number and leave it at that” I had begged them) clearly had no idea what they were talking about, but they nonetheless persevered, and then somehow assumed they were going to receive the dish they desired. They then had the chutzpah to complain and refuse to pay for the resultant unrecognisable and unappealing dish that was served to them; hence the blacklisting. But I digress…

I did the catch up thing with Aaron and Sandra, filling each other in on where we had been since we had last seen each other in Mumbai. Daniel was meeting Sandra and Aaron for the first time, so they did the “where are you from?” thing. When Sandra told Daniel that she was from Peru, he decided to exercise his conversational Spanish. Aaron, despite being from Austria (although, in my mind at least, he didn’t really come across as your stereotypical Austrian – more like a citizen of the world – either that or Danish) could also speak Spanish. While I can vaguely understand a little bit of Spanish, I can’t string a sentence together. Such is the disadvantage of growing up and living in an isolated place like Perth, Australia. In addition, think it highlights the disadvantage (and yes, there are advantages too) of being a native English speaker. Due to English being such a wide spoken language, one is rarely given the incentive nor opportunity to develop their skills in other languages.

Finally, the conversation switched back to English. Aaron and Sandra had explained to Daniel that they were “Peace Studies” students, and as part of their masters’ project, they were travelling to somewhere near the southern tip of India to attempt to facilitate some sort of conflict resolution. Daniel then said “Do you mind if ask you something: What is your opinion on a solution to the problem in my country?” I winced a little bit. In parts of the world we have that rule about not discussing religion or politics. Israel is not one of those parts, and politics are often discussed freely. In fact, when I thought about it, it was rather odd that Daniel and I had never discussed politics before, and I didn’t really know where his political attitudes lay. Remarkably, I couldn’t recall a single political conversation with any Israelis since I had been in India. Perhaps in India travellers like to leave the home world behind. Furthermore, I certainly had never really discussed politics with Aaron and Sandra. While I was a tad concerned about where this conversation was going to go, this concern was outweighed by my curiosity.

“Actually,” started Aaron “we have studied your conflict in our course in quite some detail…” He went on to describe how they did some workshop on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the framework he described involved bringing in all these other countries to facilitate peace talks and draw up land boundaries acceptable to both sides. This internationalisation of the conflict seemed not much different to the existing and failed strategies of The Quartet or the United Nations. I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to interject. “Ah, you Europeans, you love to internationalise everything.”
“What about you?” Sandra asked Daniel, “What do you think is the solution?”
“Well, I think what is needed is for both sides to have strong leaders. When both of our sides have leaders strong enough to make the necessary compromises…” offered Daniel.

“I hope we can all still be friends after this” I said with a little jokingly to Aaron, as I was about get myself labelled as a hawk “but I have to disagree with all of you. Firstly the conflict is not about land. In 1947, do you know what percentage of land Israel was out of the total Arab land? Well?” I paused for an answer, but none came, so I answered it myself “Not 10%, Not 1 %, not even ½ of 1%, but approximately 0.16%. And the Arab countries still rejected the UN Partition Plan, so clearly the conflict isn’t going to be resolved through the exchange of land. It is about the acceptance of existence.”

“Furthermore” I continued “and most importantly, there are some conflicts I don’t feel can be resolved simply through negotiations. For example, how would you have combated the rise of 20th century fascism in Europe through peaceful negotiations? Or how would you have resolved WWII simply through negotiations?” Again I paused for an answer, but I only got forfeiting looks from my peace studies friends, so continued “The fact is it took armies and war to defeat fascism. Some conflicts will unfortunately only be resolved when one side uses enough overwhelming force so that the other side stops believing they can win and thus surrenders. War is a terrible thing, don’t get me wrong, but I think there are times when it is the best of some very bad alternatives. ”

I realised I had taken them by surprise with my von Clausewitz attitude toward global conflict resolution. Thankfully the conversation changed to something else. Sandra wanted to know whether we found Indian women to be good looking. Aaron said that he was yet to see any very beautiful Indian women since arriving a week ago. I said that I felt that some Indian women were very beautiful. I also brought up the scientifically interesting point that lighter skinned Caucasians generally prefer a suntan, but the Indians have a mate-selection preference to lighter skinned Indians over darker skinned Indians. May be we all naturally have a preference for a skin colour that represents the middle of the global human skin colour spectrum? With the conversation having shifted to a safer place, I knew the next morning we would all wake up friends.

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