The Lens we Look Through

 So last week was fairly busy at school, which left me little time to blog.  The job is going well, in the sense that I remain both busy and interested.  I have taken up the job of summarizing the Indonesian news when I get in to the office, first thing in the morning. 

My favorite comment beneath a story about Obama in the Jakarta Globe last week expressed support for our President’s assertiveness in acting for the benefit of the poor by proclaiming him, “a leopard not a water buffalo.”  I’ve come to enjoy even the slightest uniqueness in perspective.

In addition to feeling more and more comfortable with the region I’m researching and being entertained in the morning, I have begun to really enjoy beginning my day with a different perspective.  Last week Indonesia suffered an earthquake at sea that resulted in a tsunami that flooded an entire village, as well as the destruction of a continually erupting volcano.  Reading the Indonesian news often helps me to understand where the people are coming from when I later read more detailed reports about their policies and struggles with insurgent groups.

Last Wednesday the USIP hosted an event that highlighted the positive effects of young Arabic hip hop artists on the movement for peace.  The event, Rhymes of Peace: Arab Hip Hop Artists on Youth and Media, hosted Syrian-American artist, Omar Offendum, and Iranian artist, Mana, who each performed some of their work live for the attendees, and Iraqi artist, the Narcicyst, by webcast since he was denied entry into the country.  They were excellent performers and admirably didn’t claim to have solutions to the different problems many in their home countries are facing, instead expressing the importance of speaking from your own perspective and voice, whatever that may be. 

I was impressed by their ability as young performers to remain invested in the conflicts and tensions abroad and not fall victim to apathy because of their more privileged statuses living in this country (as I often do).  At the same time though, there was a sense of peace about them that I believe comes from the realization that as one small voice in a conflict so large sometimes all you can do is share your story.  They rapped about hope for the future, the confusion or pain of the present, and simply about their individual experiences.  I believe that this is the way music is able to cross boundaries– by expressing their own experiences artists invite others to relate to it, and Arabs and Americans alike have related to these artists across the world and have responded.

In my study of the conflict in Northern Ireland and the peace process that is still in place there, I  have found that much of the post-conflict dialogue has focused on shared experiences.  Many families from both sides have lost loved ones to shootings and bombings, or know someone who took up the armed resistance movement, either Protestant or Catholic.  Often they have been able to relate to each other in the aftermath because of these shared experiences, more similar than they are different.

The persistence of the Darul Islam movement in Indonesia is similar to the persistence of the IRA or the UVF in Ireland.  The historic and deeply passionate nature of Darul Islam’s fight for an Islamic state reminds me of the IRA’s fight for a unified Ireland, and the Protestant  UVF’s desire to maintain the status quo just as passionately as the “moderate” Muslims and other Indonesian citizens today do.  Many in the Darul Islam movement over the years have died in their fight or lost friends and fellows, as have many on the other side whom they term “non-believers.” 

When I am able to put aside my perspective as a United States citizen, complete with my elitism, maybe my ethnocentrism, my fear, all my opinions, criticisms, and my ideas, I can hear the people in Indonesia speaking the same language as the people in Ireland. 

When I read the Indonesian news of their flooding and disaster, I think of hurricane Katrina at home.  I think of how hard our security forces work at home, shutting down the metro and scanning all the airline passengers when I read about their security forces and the controversy that surrounds their methods and roles.  They are sometimes disappointed in their president, and we are sometimes disappointed in ours.  They sometimes stumble in their struggles to keep their country safe while treating armed resistors with humanity, as we do here.  The world sometimes looks down on them, as they sometimes do on the United States. 

Perhaps, as the event last week illustrated, hip hop music and media shared among young people is a good way for them to communicate common experiences and promote peace.  Perhaps dialogue post-conflict is a good way to reconcile emotions and tensions that linger from the past.  But what can we adults do today to relate to each other when we are experiencing the world so differently, and from such tense positions?

I do not have the answers.  I do not have all the facts or even all the perspectives in mind, and I cannot shed my American background like a snake-skin– it will remain with me.  So each day I read and read more, trying to form a picture in my head that allows me to come from a place of peace and offer a hand.  Cheers to another week of progress.

(The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policy positions.)