By Dina Zaman
ASSIGNMENT TWO: OCCIDENTALISM CLASS
With borders becoming more seamless and technology being part of our daily lives, it has become more urgent that our voices are heard and add to the diversity of peacebuilding. Much of the work on Occidentalism and Orientalism has focused on history, nation building and culture, and for peacebuilders and humanitarians, colonisation has been at the forefront of much of conflict and despair for many countries.
Decolonisation is very much part of the conversation among academics, policymakers and peacebuilders these days. The world has become a darker place to be since the pandemic, and during the global health crisis, inequality, xenophobia, health crises, to name a few, were exposed to great public outcry. The article, How the World Will Look after the Coronavirus Pandemic, discussed how the world would be less open and democratic, and that populism and nationalism would have a stronger hold on the public consciousness. China, America’s bogeyman, would continue its rise as a military power, and the Western World is nervous, so to speak, but hope is not lost, as observers note that the world would reset itself, by becoming less profit oriented, and that the pandemic would make us all think of a global purpose. Still, this is not lost on many, and very few are sure of the future. What they feel certain about is that they can only protect themselves and their immediate neighbours, as they feel unseen by their own governments.
I am fascinated to observe how this is so much a part of peacebuilding work. I am a recent entrant to the world of peacebuilding, and part of the Southeast Asian Women Peacebuilders Network. The network was mooted to promote women peacebuilders’ voices and work in the region, and at almost all our meetings, the call to push not just women’s voices but also local narratives is ever present. What we have now is not enough, and we need to do more.
In recent years, there has been a rise of literature and research on decolonising conflicts, history et al. As said earlier, Occidentalism is staking itself as a permanent player in discourse, and yes, even in security, PVE efforts and peacebuilding. The New Humanitarian, an online journalism website reporting on the millions of people affected by humanitarian crises around the world, wrote, “The legacies of colonialism, occupation, and empire-building echo in each country’s present-day instability. Home grown solutions and demands for new approaches from local aid workers and civil society continue to find a voice.”
Now, in Introduction to Globalization and Occidentalism: The West from Non-Western Perspectives, there was a discussion on how globalisation would impact human rights, and whether human rights fit well with local norms and were truly universal. These are legitimate (reasons). One of the issues discussed was funding from western donors and their agenda. This has crossed peacebuilders’ minds. Would this mean that the needs and demands of local communities, especially those living in conflict areas, be set aside, so donors meet their goals? Would it be a foreign voice speaking on their behalf? How can they accept foreign money and at the same time, fight for the local communities? Hence the urgent need to have local peacebuilders setting and leading the agenda. Our call to action would be that as we rush to help our communities and countries, we must not forget to develop Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) on our own terms.
For this world to thrive, we must educate ourselves before others. In our own workplaces in this region, we need to have policies that value DEI. We also have to acknowledge that this is not about the West versus Asia: we have a history of othering our own communities. Yes, the ugly fact is that while we berate the Western world for all its injustices (and rightly so), we tend to overlook that we too have our own prejudices. A 2014 poll conducted by the Pew centre showed “…Asians with quite disparate opinions about each other. Half or more in seven of 10 Asian countries surveyed expressed a favorable view of Japan, while majorities in six of 10 say this about China. Opinions about India vary considerably, ranging from 70% positive in Bangladesh to 13% in Pakistan. Fellow Asians take a fairly critical perspective on Pakistan – there is no country other than Indonesia in which a clear plurality gives Pakistan a positive rating. This includes China, where only 30% have a favorable opinion of Islamabad, a major Beijing ally. Meanwhile, Pakistan is the only Asian nation polled in which less than half see the United States favorably.” Othering other cultures is not just a Western concept; our own prejudices which stem from colonisation, culture, xenophobia and class, contribute to our own racism. By denying our own truths, we will not go far. Hence, we need to talk about what’s going on at home, and that may be the best way to begin promoting our work and voices.
The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and Geneva Peacebuilding Platform had recommended the following: Inclusivity can best be achieved by aligning engagements in multiple, overlapping processes at various levels, with multiple actors at the same time. Contextualisation is key to the successful implementation of a strategy. Inclusivity does not only refer to when to include whom in the peace process leading up to a peace agreement in the aftermath of violent conflict. It also refers to the connections between multiple processes within differing levels of society, in different places and driven by a diversity of actors. How can we resolve such issues?
Some of the recommendations for peacebuilders in Southeast Asia working on DEI and conflict that the Foundation suggest are:
- Reaching higher levels of inclusivity requires an action framework that is based on multi-layered and multi-stakeholder designs. It is necessary to engage at various levels and establish mechanisms for linkages between them. This should involve the national government, external actors, civil society organisations and communities.
- Flexibility and continuity are important factors in order to enable adapting to the local context and promoting local ownership.
- Inclusivity can best be achieved by aligning engagements in multiple, overlapping processes at various levels by multiple actors at the same time. Every context is unique and effective peacebuilding starts from a series of common elements that are adjusted to a specific setting. Contextualisation of a strategy is key – a one-size-fits-all strategy on inclusivity won’t work.
This short observation is definitely not a conclusive one – it merely offers an entry of discussion for stakeholders in peacebuilding and conflict negotiation. I would like to invite my colleagues to contribute their thoughts on this topic.
Andika Wahab. 2021. Introduction to Globalization and Occidentalism: The West from Non-Western Perspectives. Malaysia. IKMAS, UKM.
Antonia Does. 2013. Inclusivity and Local Perspectives in Peacebuilding: Issues, Lessons, Challenges. Geneva. Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and Geneva Peacebuilding Platform. Access at https://gsdrc.org/document-library/inclusivity-and-local-perspectives-in-peacebuilding-issues-lessons-challenges/
John a. powell and Stephen Menendia. Undated. The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging. Berkeley, California. Othering & Belonging. Access at . https://www.otheringandbelonging.org/the-problem-of-othering/
John R. Allen, Nicholas Burns, Laurie Garrett, Richard N. Haass, G. John Ikenberry, Kishore Mahbubani, Shivshankar Menon, Robin Niblett, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Shannon K. O’Neil, Kori Schake, Stephen M. Walt. 2020. How the World Will Look After the Coronavirus Pandemic. Washington DC. Foreign Policy.
Lori Nishiura Mackenzie and Melissa V. Abad. 2021. Are Your Diversity Efforts Othering Underrepresented Groups? Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard Business Review. Access at https://hbr.org/2021/02/are-your-diversity-efforts-othering-underrepresented-groups
Pew Research Center. 2014. Chapter 4: How Asians View Each Other. Washington DC. Pew Research Center. Access at https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2014/07/14/chapter-4-how-asians-view-each-other/
The New Humanitarian. 2021. Ten humanitarian crises and trends to watch in 2022. Switzerland. The New Humanitarian. Access at https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/feature/2021/12/29/ten-humanitarian-crises-trends-to-watch