An iconic peace-builder across the world

Conflict, security, violence, war, and peace are issues both young and old struggle with. They are complicated issues. They are also critical to the legacy we pass on to future generations.

by Anwar A. Khan

To begin with, I wish to pronounce the words of Ricky Martin, “Heroes represent the best of us, respecting that we are human beings. A hero can be anyone from Gandhi to your classroom teacher, anyone who can show courage when faced with a problem like violence, war... A hero is someone who is willing to help others in his or her best capacity to pull back peace in the society we live in…

With every news channel reporting the same sad news of violence, crime, wars and disaster, we have come close to believe the popular phrase ‘’faith in humanity lost’’. Today, where there is unprecedented literacy, our systems still fail to foster peace and kindness, but only mental restlessness and discontent instead. While all this remains true, we often overlook the works of some astounding some truly human beings and organisations that burn the candles at both ends to bring world peace. There are hundreds of organisations and individuals for world peace around the globe, each one of them working with a different approach and level to make this a better world. Let us have a look at Dr. Amr Khairy Abdalla’s strive to establish world peace.

It is also worthful to put in our mind that Dr. Amr Khairy Abdalla is the husband of Sharmin Ahmad, the proud daughter of our country’s able and dynamic statesman and first Prime Minister of provisional government during our glorious Liberation War of 1971 to establish Bangladesh - Tajuddin Ahmad, who was a man pure in heart.

Conflict, security, violence, war, and peace are issues both young and old struggle with. They are complicated issues. They are also critical to the legacy we pass on to future generations. We can start building peace in the world by building peace within ourselves, our families, and our communities. We all have a responsibility to actively participate in making choices about how we resolve conflicts. The view of the world as shaped in childhood and adolescence to a large part determines adult perspectives. Do we have the courage to pass on to children a legacy of a worldview that encourages peace building? Amr Abdalla has been striving with indefatigable energy to resolve conflicts and building up placidity throughout the world.

A peace builder is someone who acts in small ways every day to make the world a more peaceful place. As human beings, we have incredible potential. Peace building is based on the hope that we can tap into that potential. It doesn't offer an easy or quick solution. It is an ongoing process of learning for young and old.

Dr. Abdalla is KARAMAH's Senior Fellow on Conflict Resolution and Senior Advisor on Policy Analysis and Research at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) of Addis Ababa University. In 2013-2014, he was Vice President of SALAM Institute for Peace and Justice in Washington, D.C. From 2004-2013 he was Professor, Dean and Vice Rector at the United Nations-mandated University for Peace (UPEACE) in Costa Rica. Prior to that, he was a Senior Fellow with the Peace Operations Policy Programme, School of Public Policy, at George Mason University, Virginia. He was also a Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Virginia. Both his academic and professional careers are multi-disciplinary. He obtained a law degree in Egypt in 1977 where he practiced law as a prosecuting attorney from 1978 to 1987. He then emigrated to the U.S. where he obtained a Master's degree in Sociology and a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University.

He has been teaching graduate classes in conflict analysis and resolution, and has conducted training, research and evaluation of conflict resolution and peacebuilding programmes in several countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. He also authored, and co-authored, several research and evaluation teaching manuals including: Doing What You Want With Your Data, A Step-by-Step Guide to Planning and Implementing Evaluation Strategies, and Qualitative Evaluation: The What and Why.

Dr. Amr genuinely trusts “conflict is a situation where two or more parties have incompatible goals or interests that do not match. From the beginning, he stressed that conflict is not about eliminating one party’s interest. Success in conflict resolution is when we manage to deal with conflict more effectively and more peacefully. He has delved deeper into the five conflict styles, which include the competing style, the avoiding style, the compromising style, the collaborating style, and the accommodating style.”

When we read Dr. Amr, we find that “he has then broken down different approaches to conflict resolution into three styles: professional approach, empowerment approach, and the common good approach. The best approach for any given conflict depends on the desired outcome of the parties involved. However, depending on the history, culture, needs and wants of each community, some approaches are more useful while others are more appropriate.”

If we interpret Dr. Abdalla, then we find out that he has incorporated the idea of conflict mediation, and the methods and principles that should guide conflict mediation. Mediation is similar to negotiation, except that in mediation there is a third party who helps clarify opinions without influencing the final decision. This might be preferable over negotiation when the values, principles and interests being discussed are difficult to talk about. This is a beneficial approach even during soft negotiation when the opponents are friends.

Peace and non-violence are fundamental principles of Dr. Amr Khairy Abdalla. From Ghandi, through Martin Luther King, unto John Lennon, the precedence of peace in present day revolutionary movements is paramount to their success. Whereas we under no circumstances expect people to be perfect in this regard, the central idea is for peace to provide a space for people to learn, practise and embody peace in their day to day lives.

When we are in service to others, we are in service to ourselves. When we can give freely of our time to the benefit of our fellow mankind, we invite an inherent humanity within us all. We are all in this world together, and the stresses of daily living can be relieved so easily with a very simple act of service.

Peace-building is an activity that aims to resolve injustice in nonviolent ways and to transform the cultural and structural conditions that generate deadly or destructive conflict. It revolves around developing constructive personal, group, and political relationships across ethnic, religious, class, national, and racial boundaries. This process includes violence prevention, conflict management, resolution, or transformation; and post-conflict reconciliation or trauma healing, i.e., before, during, and after any given case of violence.

As such, peace-building is a multidisciplinary, cross-sector technique or method which becomes strategic when it works over the long run and at all levels of society to establish and sustain relationships among people locally and globally—thus engendering sustainable peace. Strategic peace-building activities address the root causes or potential causes of violence, create a societal expectation for peaceful conflict resolution, and stabilise society politically and socioeconomically.

The included in peace-building vary depending on the situation and the agent of peace-building. Successful peace building activities create an environment supportive of self-sustaining; durable peace; reconcile opponents; prevent conflict from restarting; integrate civil society; create rule of law mechanisms; and address underlying structural and societal issues. Researchers and practitioners also increasingly find that peace-building is most effective and durable when it relies upon local conceptions of peace and the underlying dynamics which foster or enable conflict.

In the story of Professor Amr Abdalla who belongs to UPEACE and his work seems to be a very meaningful chapter. His bond with the university comes from long ago; he understands and knows it as very few do. He has experienced diverse historical moments of the institution and has seen it from varied perspectives. Maybe that is why he so fiercely believes it to be such a unique place. “There is no place in the world like UPEACE,” says Amr. He further said, “This kind of connection that develops here between students, students and staff, is something that I have never seen in the world.”

Amr has recently been awarded a Professor Emeritus status by UPEACE on 9 September 2019, “in recognition of his distinguished academic service to our university,” states the award certificate. He currently teaches face-to-face and online courses, in addition to advising students. He is one of the first faces that students see when taking their Foundation Course at the beginning of the academic year. From 2004-2013, this place was his home - physically, while it remains that way in spirit.

It all began in 2003, when the then Washington-based American University professor and UPEACE visiting professor, Dr. Mohammed Abu Nimer, introduced Amr to Dr. Mary King – an active participant in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and a professor at UPEACE herself. Dr. King sought Amr to help her and other colleagues design the first Gender Programme for UPEACE under the leadership of Professor Dina Rodriguez. UPEACE was going through expansion and growth, a time best known as the Revitalization, prompted by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. She knew Amr´s expertise in research methods with a gender perspective based on his work at George Mason University, where he was working at that time.

Amr knew little about Costa Rica and much less about UPEACE. However, when his help was requested, he did not hesitate to assume the task. Soon he was on campus working alongside professors from different countries designing the Gender Programmes, and preparing the curriculum on the first UPEACE Research Methods course. By the end of that meeting in April 2003, he was offered a visiting teaching position.

Amr came to teach his first course at UPEACE in November 2003. Three weeks were enough for him to charm his students through his unique way of teaching and incredible passion when standing in front of a class. By the time, he was back on campus some months after to review thesis proposals, the word had spread and other UPEACE professors were asking Amr to teach some of their courses in the International Peace Studies and the International Law programmes.

Yet, it was not only Faculty members who noticed his remarkable way of teaching; the news went all the way up to then-Rector, Martin Lees, who heard the roar of clapping on Amr’s last day of class and immediately sought out the man who had caused such an ovation.

Professor Amr has been moving across the world for resolving the conflicts and peace-building and he is proud to feel, “I stayed for 10 years, all I can say is that those 10 years of UPEACE were the best of my life, no question about it. I do not want to make it sound like everything was romantic and easy; at times it was very difficult, challenging, yet always rewarding. For the 10 years here, I felt like I had the entire UPEACE on my shoulders. I was responsible for everything, the administration, the money, the academic, the work overseas, I was working three jobs in one, and I was doing it with all my heart, I was so happy. I was lucky to be surrounded by equally committed colleagues and leadership.”

His shining star wife Sharmin Ahmad’s inspiration has always been a source behind Dr. Abdalla’s conflict resolving and peace-building efforts with a motto “peace begins with a smile."
No-one who met him will ever forget him. I personally had got an opportunity to attend a seminar at Dhaka University campus on conflict resolution and peace-building early this this year. I have found he cast a spell-bound among the audience when he delivered a speech because of his knowledge, thoughtfulness, unparalleled style of speaking… He is passionately and wholeheartedly committed to peacebuilding.

He is certain that the kind of learning that happens at UPEACE allows deeper connections with and among students - what he finds to be a unique characteristic of the place, and a big reason why he always feels at home.

However, it is not all about teaching. For Amr, being in Costa Rica, on a campus immersed in nature and multiculturalism, mixes together to provide a magical scenario where unique human bonds happen – bonds that go beyond our campus and make UPEACErs remain connected no matter where they are. “That UPEACEr connection is the most valuable thing I came out with, perhaps in my life” sounds out Amr Abdalla.

He has been an active figure in promoting inter-faith dialogue and effective cross-cultural messages through workshops and community presentations in the United States and beyond. He pioneered the development of the first conflict resolution teaching and training manual for Muslim communities titled (“…Say Peace”). He also founded Project LIGHT (Learning Islamic Guidance for Human Tolerance), a community peer-based anti-discrimination project funded by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ).

In 2011, he established with Egyptian UPEACE graduates a programme for community prevention of sectarian violence in Egypt (Ahl el Hetta). In 2018, he led the publication of the first Arabic Glossary of Terms in Peace and Conflict Studies in cooperation with UNDP-Iraq and the Iraqi Amal Association.

It is understood clearly that Dr. Amr Khairy Abdalla had a knack for conflict resolution and peace building from an early age. He permanently influenced his view of conflict resolution, peace building and human potential. He speaks fluently and without pause for an hour, and holding the audience spellbound.

His name has become synonymous with genius and creativity. Dr. Amr is a rare icon, whose wisdom extended far beyond the realm of a kind human being and to reveal a man with an almost dewy-eyed sense of wonder and a profound love of humanity. He has not been trying not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value to world society.

He would teach peace rather than war. He would inculcate love rather than hate. A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?...... The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it… Let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life…

The word peace builder includes a wide range of people, both professional and amateur, involved in the wide world of national and international peace-building. This always includes people working in: conflict transformation & reconciliation; peace education, conflict prevention, and conflict resolution; political and/or community-based mediation; post-conflict security - security sector reform (SSR), disarmament, demobilisation & reintegration (DDR), mine action/explosive remnants of war (ERW), etc.

Depending on the context, peace-building can also include people working in: humanitarian aid and development (especially in active conflict zones); institution and nation building; human rights and advocacy; environmental conservation and protection; and any number of educational, social or structural initiatives that contribute to positive social change, facilitate the establishment of durable peace, and assist in preventing the recurrence of violence by addressing root causes of conflict.

We are enabled to take our time. We are, in other words, empowered to be patient. Patience is not passivity. Most of the most satisfying and worthwhile things we do require patience, like learning a new language, playing an instrument, building a political movement, and, dare I say, understanding our faith to be non-violent. We are freed, by our own resurrection, to take the time to learn, think, to tend to the needs of others, to confront the messiness of life with confidence and grace, to bear the cost of solidarity, to have a heated argument with our adversaries, and to avoid turning to violence to resolve our differences.

We are free, because we human beings. This serenity, beloved, is the peace that we should give to people of all religions. It is a peace that the world cannot offer, an eschatological peace that is already breaking into our world. Therefore, we must daily pray that we will grant our soul us to be strengthened to hope against hope so that we might be made worthy for the kingdom that is and is still to come. So let us heed the compassionate words of Dr. Amr Abdalla.

Dr. Amr’s stated mission is to promote “an innovative, values-based approach to peace-building, guided by the vision of his peace building efforts.” He believes that it is important to listen to everyone, no matter how unpalatable this may be. He also stresses the importance of every individual and how they are capable of making a difference through establishing peace in different societies.

So, let us not be drunk on the idea that the world is fostered by hatred and violence while Dr. Abdalla’s work to promote peace on local, national and international levels. Also, let’s contribute in our little ways, to help this world become a more peaceful place to live in.

We understand peace building may take many forms: conflict resolution programmes (training to resolve interpersonal conflicts constructively); violence/bullying prevention programmes (reducing violent behaviours); development education (values, human rights); nonviolence education (emphasising positive images of peace); and global peace education (international studies).

Understanding is key to peace building, and understanding is taught at home. We seldom lose our temper when we are focused on trying to understand a situation or another person's perspective. Children who are taught to try to understand why things happen and why people act the way they do will become calmer and more in control. Children need calmness. It gives them a kind of security. Peace and the control of temper is a powerful and important value that is largely a product of love and of the atmosphere created in a home.

Most of us tend to hold on to our moral positions because we are afraid (they play a major role in who we are) and we don't see or understand the bigger picture. This bigger picture is important because we forget that our moral positions go beyond our own experience, and they significantly affect the lives of those around us and those who follow us.

Long story short: Dr. Amr Abdalla is a hero in his conflict resolution and peace building process across the world…Choose to be a peace builder and to encourage your children and grandchildren to follow the same path. Hail to the man like Dr. Amr Khairy Abdalla who has gone through life always helping others, knowing no fear, and to whom aggressiveness and resentment are alien. The great moral teachers of humanity were or are, in a way, artistic geniuses in the art of living in peace.

-The End –

The writer is a political commentator based in Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs.

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