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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .

Reconciliation, Justice, and Coexistence: Theory and Practice
Mohammed Abu-Nimer

Lanham, MD and Oxford: Lexington Books, 2001
368pp. Pb.: $29.95; ISBN 0-7391-0268-0

In the under researched field of post settlement peace-building in intra-state conflicts, Abu-Nimer offers the reader a book full of rich and in-depth exploration around the complex themes of peace, justice, reconciliation and co-existence.

Emerging out of the 1999 international conference 'Promoting Justice and Peace through Reconciliation and Co-existence Alternatives' at the American University, Abu-Nimer provides a book divided into two parts: 'Theoretical Frameworks for Reconciliation in Peace-building'; 'Practice in Reconciliation, Justice, and Coexistence: Selective Case Studies', with all contributions coming from respected activists and academics in the peace research field.

As an overview, this book moves skilfully beyond the hard politics of 'law and order', and suggests that for peace to be deep and sustainable we need to look at the individual hurts caused by violent conflict. How can 'fear' be transformed to trust? The 'Enemy' transformed to 'neighbour'? Thankfully no one contributor attempts to define the complex words of reconciliation, justice and co-existence, rather they explore their meanings in relationship to individuals and communities. Words such as culture, relationships, communication, dialogue and symbolism are common throughout, along with an open acknowledgement that gradual long-term reconciliation processes are the only way to deal with deeply divided and scarred communities.

To offer an example from Part One, Joseph Montvilles chapter on 'Justice and the Burdens of History' (p129), is indicative of the quality of the contributors. Montville explores the notion of restorative justice and trauma from the perspective of 'human needs' and highlights an emerging theme of the whole book with the statement: 'As with individual victims of trauma, peoples and nations require complex healing processes to get beyond their psychological and physiological symptoms to become full partners in reconciliation and peace-building' (p132). Among many things Montville addresses 'public acts of healing' and 'private acts of healing' and indicates, what for me is the key factor in all reconciliation processes, the essential role of STORY in trust and relationship building. Storytelling as public testimony and storytelling as catharsis.

The second part of the book is presented as a series of case studies, grounding the theory in practice. As with most books of this nature the case studies hold different levels of interest according to the regional appeal of the reader, so here it is very much up to the individual to choose a chapter that strikes a chord for them. However, whatever is chosen the reader is guaranteed a deep and comprehensive analysis, along with the insight that there is no one clear formula of reconciliation. Communities can adopt strategies from other conflicting regions, but ultimately it lies with the insight and imagination of people living in their own community to find healing mechanisms suitable to them.

Completing the gesture, Abu-Nimer's book concludes with a series of 'Common Lessons' to act as a guide to both practitioners and scholars in their work in the field of post-settlement peace-building, and ends by including an eloquent speech given by Abdul Aziz Said who says:

'Preparation for the journey toward a world community begins with irrelevant dreams. Dreams are imperfect and subject to contextual, cultural, and historical biases, yet they open the way for a future where we can shield ourselves from the disaster of chaos...Utopias are useful tools to design intermediate steps, to know what is our hope, but utopias cannot be used to divert the energy of the world from the intermediate, small steps that are possible' (p348).

Sarah Alldred
Centre for the Study of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

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