Thursday, May 17, 2012

Walk the plank?

 Social change is itself conflictual.
--Oliver Ramsbotham, Tom Woodhouse and Hugh Miall

One of the founders of the field of Peace and Conflict Studies, Johan Galtung, wrote about the difference between what he called the intelligentsia--those intellectuals who serve the ruling elites--and the public peace and justice intellectuals--those who speak and write publicly for the common good, which tends to involve social change toward more equal distribution of resources.

Some who research, write, teach, and practice in the field of Peace and Conflict Studies can fall victim to the trap that all teaching, writing and advocacy that opposes the elite ruling and owner class is a legitimate part of our field. In my view, each instance requires its own evaluation, its own conflict forensics, and yet some fundamental questions.

For example, Johan Galtung is being portrayed as falling victim in his advancing age to some of his own challenges. He was advocating for some self-examination by Jews about the widespread bias against them and the relationship of kernels of truth in those prejudices to lies and hoaxes--specifically, in this instance, to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a traducing and grotesquely false lie that seems to have persistently fertile social soil in which it grows new tentacles each generation and around the world. His comments in response to an interview by the Israeli newspaper Ha'artez showed Galtung in this light. An excerpt from his organization, Transcend, which is effectively his response:

 Galtung fully recognizes that the "Protocols", as revealed in 1921, are a sickening falsification, probably fabricated by the Russian Secret Police, to justify the pogroms. But he does not know precisely who was the author, a point prominently echoed by Umberto Eco for his masterful "The Prague Cemetery". Galtung is fully aware that they represent a very sensitive issue that brings up all the sufferings of the Jewish people. This trauma notwithstanding, it is important that people know of those aspects of the content, which deal mainly with the use of debt bondage as power. The major actors that currently apply debt bondage are China, Japan and the EU relative to the US, Germany relative to peripheral countries in Europe, like Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland (GIPSI) and the World Bank relative to the World; for a horrifying example, see John Perkins (2004) "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man". That people of Jewish belief and Judaism have nothing to do with any of this goes without saying.
This renunciation of what Galtung felt was a willful misinterpretation of his words and intentions was not good enough for some in the field of Peace and Conflict Studies. Now my organization, the Peace and Justice Studies Association, is considering a statement denouncing Johan Galtung.

This is typical of the sort of 'peace' intellectuals who have clung to the zero-sum adversarial approach to conflict that mandates victory over others rather than dialog to at least attempt to discern intent and help to clarify content and a path forward. Take the work of a scholar who has been germinal in our field since its inception (here he is beginning in 1959 with an article (Pacifism from a sociological point of view) in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, the original and flagship journal of our field, first published just two years earlier in 1957) and toss him overboard.

I for one appreciate that Galtung "fully recognizes that the 'Protocols' are a sickening falsification." If Johan Galtung is aging less than gracefully, if he should take a lower profile as he progresses through his 80s, I leave that to him. Will he say things that others regard as biased? Almost certainly. He has been quite public for quite long and is no stranger to controversy. He is easily quoted out of context. A hostile listener to this short clip from YouTube on Occupy in its earlier days could seize upon his FBI bringing drugs into the Occupy camps as odd and conspiratorial, but a more tolerant interpretation is to simply give Galtung credit for connecting the drug planting of the 1960s (mixed with plenty of actual drug use by movement members) to the predictable drug busts in Occupy of 2011. Similarly, one might read and understand his Ha'artez interview in several ways. He is almost always urging us to listen to all sides and that listening isn't agreeing, but it is knowledge.

I cannot help but notice that some--not all, certainly, but some--of the scholars calling for a personal attack on Galtung by our association are those who defend the use of violence by Palestinians and others. They are just fine with claiming PJSA membership and violating our mission, which includes "The creation and nurturing of alternatives to structures of inequality and injustice, war and violence through education, research and action." But they have decided to call Johan Galtung a 'racist' and attack him in ad hominem fashion for that. This cafeteria approach to the mission of the organization is a little strange, but primarily I am simply far more loathe to toss one of our respected elders--someone whose grand-daughter was nearly slaughtered by Anders Behring Breivik at the island camp for progressive Norwegian children and whose work since then at least partially has been to attempt to understand the Breivik mind in order to better prevent future such tragedies--I am very hesitant indeed to throw him off the ledge.

Apparently, that makes me complicit in Galtung's mistakes and a defender of the good old peaceboy network. Whatever. I have seen NO PJSA statement about Radko Mladic, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, or any of literally thousands of known purveyors of hate AND DEATH. So we should start with a peace researcher still in shock over the atrocity committed by a fellow Norwegian on Norwegian children? This is so far beneath us and so out of order that I can only shake my head in disbelief.


Ramsbotham, Oliver, Woodhouse, Tom, & Miall, Hugh (2011). Contemporary conflict resolution (3rd ed.). Malden, MA: Polity Press.

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