Update from Switzerland, 25 October 2006

I know as well as you how terribly tardy I am with this update about my studies, research and life in Geneva. I could explain why I’m so tardy but that would be just painfully boring — for us both. I hope to be more regular since being irregular is no fun in lots of ways.

The personal first: I am now fully in our house and awaiting Janice, Clare and Patricia. They arrive this Friday and, to understate it, I can’t wait! Our house, yard and neighborhood are beautiful. I live on less food than a rabbit, so I need to get some before the fam arrives.

I met the new US Ambassador to Switzerland last week, Peter Coneway, and enjoyed a brief talk he gave to a local civic group. We share a mutual colleague at Lexington Seminary, Bill Turner, who thoughtfully put us in touch. Ambassador Coneway indicated a commitment to reach out to the growing Islamic community in Switzerland and his hope that I would be involved in that work. I hope his staff will contact me because of course I would be glad to help.

My work is going well. The last two weeks have been among the busiest and most intense that I can remember and included three days with a leading international negotiator, who I think does not sleep or eat. I very much enjoyed working with him, but it did make a long week longer. This week looks better, evidenced by the fact that I am writing this!

Between all the categories of participants, we have 24 countries represented. Only one participant is from Africa (Ethiopia) and none is from South America. I wish those two continents were better represented. There are Europeans galore, from what I call both West and East, some of them call Old and New, and others of them consider all outdated and prejudicial labels. The latter group prefers a European is a European. It reminds me that the beauty of international dialogue is firstly about terminology and interpretation.

The understanding of identity-based conflict is a relatively new and as yet understudied phenomenon, and so the ideas that I put forth about religion’s roles as motivator of conflict and motivator of peace are greeted with great interest — and with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Last week, for instance, I had a long discussion with a well-known Middle Eastern peace and conflict studies scholar about whether religion was actually the source of conflict (as is often claimed) or whether religion was instrumentalized by conflict that was actually caused by other factors. This is not an insignificant question. Do divergent religious views give rise to the conflict or would the conflict have materialized anyhow, and the divergent religious views are just blamed for it?

An interesting related question with which I am spending some time now is how religious views and religious people help or hinder the power-sharing arrangements in post-conflict reconstruction efforts. After a given conflict, one essential key to avoiding the recurrence of conflict is to figure out how to share power among key groups of people. So, do religious groupings demand yet another category of groupings by which we must determine who should have what percentage of power in order to maintain the fragile peace in an area? More about that later.

Let’s conclude with the obvious: we are more and more interdependent. That is, my security depends on yours and the fullness of your rights depend on my respect for them. It’s not just that my country depends on your country, but I depend on you. Will our interdependence divide or unite us?

With much hope,


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