In my previous post I looked at the works of Charles Taylor who proposes a simple and yet profound way of negotiating a plurality of differences in contemporary societies. Taylor suggested that deep friendships were key to this negotiation and hope. And this is not a matter of mere theorising: John Paul Lederach, the famed conflict studies sociologist, documents how the work on interreligious engagement and peacebuilding is done typically and most effectively by the ‘middle sector’ – e.g., the academy, civil society, religious groups, and the like. (See his Moral Imagination, esp. Ch. 8, ‘On Space: Life in the Web’; and Building Peace, Ch. 4, esp. ‘Structure: Lenses for the Big Picture’.)
In a recent trip to Mindanao, Philippines that I took for fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation, I had a chance to conduct several semi-structured interviews with various Catholic and Muslim scholars on the issue of deep and indeed deadly differences. One lesson I learned from the on-the-ground perspectives there was that, indeed as Lederach finds and Taylor suggests, creating bridges across communities is indispensible.
The social anthropologist Albert Alejo (trained at the London School of Oriental and African Studies) comments in this way:
‘Every time we initiate a person into our community, [we] build . . . by drawing a boundary: “you’re in, they’re out”. [So] should [there] be no boundaries, . . . no walls? No, we need walls because we need security; but let there be windows on the walls. We need fences; but let there be gates and times for opening the gates . . . and let there be bridges [across] our boundaries. . . . Every religion which is worth its name should have resource[s] for giving identity and meaning to community, but [also resources for] developing spaces broader than [its] own narrow identities.’
And as Alejo observes, lands which once belonged to the natives of Mindanao now have been developed into industrialized cities. So, Alejo asks: ‘Do we give them back?’ He notes that ‘[t]he indigenous people are not claiming that.’ Instead, they seek a ‘collective recognition of gratitude’. (One expression of such gratitude might come in the form of scholarship funds, Alejo suggests.) Some scholars may want to insist on the importance of the dimensions of reconciliation such as political apology and forgiveness. (See the excellent work by Daniel Philpott, Just and Unjust Peace, esp. Ch. 12, ‘Forgiveness’.) But, as Alejo argues, while apology may be useful, it can also be damaging: for, while apology recognizes the injustice done, it also implicitly perpetuates the insult. For this reason, what the settlers in Mindanao need to recognize is the generosity of the natives whose land the latter allowed the former to develop. So, rather than a culture of apology, Alejo suggests, ‘Let’s instead develop a culture of gratitude.’
And I suggest that a culture of gratitude is best cultivated within the context of friendships, an enterprise securely founded on the basis of that ‘the other’ is created imago Dei with certain inviolable attributes and intrinsic worth. (See my series of blogs on the imago Dei which begins here.)