The more I discuss my work in the emerging and developing world, the more I realize there is, for the most part, a malaise of misinformation regarding the foundations and activities of the politically religious and tribalistic societies in which I live.
As evidenced by the recent public gaff of Juan Williams on National Public Radio in the United States saying that "if I see people who are in Muslim garb... I get worried," our perceptions of the world have become glazed by an acceptance of notional and commonly erroneous, anecdotal generality. Our inability to humanize or differentiate those as participants, leaders or the affected has lead to commonly accepted ignorance, which not only insights further tensions internationally but continues to fracture diverse communities within our own countries.
I spend my life traveling and working in post conflict and remotely tribal communities in sub-Saharan Africa, the turbulent periphery of South East Asia (uncontained by the prolific technologically driven mass urbanization) and religiously-divided volatile regions of the Arab and Islamic world. My analysis of concepts such as militant extremism, religious fundamentalism and tribal and ethnic fragmentation become in effect prismatic, each context and system refracted through numerous stories of participants and those affected by the activities of decision makers and leaders, both political and religious.
We live in a world where most charities now seem to represent political lobbyists, confusing their roles as humanitarian organizations and the United Nations seems more comfortably resolved to define the semantics of diplomacy rather than implementing effective support to those subjugated and most vulnerable populations off the economic resource agenda.
And then we had the "War on Terror" described in 2001 by President Bush as a "crusade" -- not that this could have possibly triggered Christian/Islamic Crusade memory? The incurring public belief that there is little in the way of moderates in the Islamic world evolved to the incredulous interpretation of the freedom of speech -- "Burn the Quran Day." As we debate the concept of nationalism versus ideology and clearly seem to forget that nationalism is in its own right a religious ideology dressed up with jurisprudence and legislation as politics, we fail to recognize that the relationship between faith and the state has become so inextricably linked, often to the detriment of those living and surviving within these communities. This is not that religion has fundamentally created these abuses but has provided the cloud in which people, groups and governments can hide behind whilst pursuing their political and economic ambitions.
The recent isolated conflicts between al-Ahbash (known in the United States as the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects) and Hezbollah on August 24th, 2010 in downtown Beirut as well as the "Blue Line Incident" between the Lebanese National Army and the Israeli Defense Force showcased Hezbollah as a military victim at the hands of another Islamic Lebanese group and its ability to pursue military restraint toward Israel. After all we have heard of Hezbollah in the media is it at all possible? If we are to doubt these linear profiles, therefore can any of these Islamic groups be then removed from an active discussion of Middle Eastern tensions as merely irrational "terrorists"? Similarly can a popularly supported and elected government such as Hamas in Gaza be ignored or even repudiated during any peace negotiations because our intelligence agencies have labeled them hard-line Islamic human rights abusers?
Oddly enough the ability for societies and governments to gloss over similar, if not worse Christian charged groups such as the Lords Resistance Army in Uganda and their resulting genocidal activities in the Central African Republic, the DRC and Southern Sudan. The use of children in conflict, human weapons nurtured and trained under Christian extremist groups continue to purge the local populations under a guise of Christianity. The International response? For the most part slow, diplomatic "humanitarian support". Africa is still not on our list of priorities, driven by the denial of the link between such guerrilla groups and Western Christianity.
The question is what do regions of the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia have in common? Primarily they are all places in which there is a conflagration of religious charged tensions and for the most part exemplify the disenfranchisement and impoverishment both economically and politically. Extremism across political and religious movements worldwide, whether the polarisation of Buddhist monks caused by the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim groups in India or the Islamic persecution of Christians in Pakistan, effectively all pursuing the nationalist power of the leaders within communities legitimising their cause under a veil of religious orthodoxy.
So in response to my perspectives, the age-old question is asked -- what is the solution? If in a way, a fundamental engagement in individuals actively involved and affected by these religious, political and tribal activities in these regions is not providing the ground work for this ever sought after "solution," then I am not sure what is.