Peacebuilders Talk With Military, Government

What would representatives from organizations like the Army War College, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Norfolk’s Joint Forces Command, Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Defense Department be doing at EMU?

For the first time in its 90-year history, EMU invited military, government and non-governmental leaders to meet and talk on campus, in concert with participants in EMU’s annual Summer Peacebuilding Institute, a 13-year-old program with thousands of alumni working for peace around the world. While peacebuilders often differ fundamentally from governmental and military leaders on what brings peace, there is reason to talk.

Left to right, EMU professor of peacebuilding Lisa Schirch, U.S. Army Colonel John Agoglia, EMU alumnus Ali Gohar of Pakistan, and EMU graduate student Latif Salem of Afghanistan discuss the challenges of peacebuilding at EMU's 2008 Summer Peacebuilding Institute
Left to right, EMU professor of peacebuilding Lisa Schirch, U.S. Army Colonel John Agoglia, EMU alumnus Ali Gohar of Pakistan, and EMU graduate student Latif Salem of Afghanistan discuss the challenges of peacebuilding. Photo by Jon Styer

U.S. Army Colonel John Agoglia was among the group of 50 or so people who spent a day at EMU in discussions with each other. The colonel recently left his position as director of the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute in Pennsylvania for an assignment in Afghanistan as the head of the Counterinsurgency Academy in Kabul.

Roundtable on Society, Conflict

The EMU roundtable “on civil society, conflict prevention and U.S. security infrastructure” was sponsored by the 3D Security Initiative under EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.

“The 3D Security Initiative fosters dialog between civil society leaders in crisis regions, the U.S. military and Washington policymakers,” explained 3D Security director Lisa Schirch, who is also an EMU professor of peacebuilding.

“The conversation was challenging, but very good,” she said. “We have to find a way to talk, because we all are working in the same crisis regions, and we all care about finding stability and peace.”

At the end of the six-hour event on June 2, Agoglia said he had enjoyed the opportunity to explain the U.S. military’s intentions and to receive feedback from representatives of civil society groups from such hotspots as Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“I thought it was a very engaging conversation,” he said, referring to the dialog involving officials from agencies such as USAID, the Department of State, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the U.S. Army War College.

‘This was a great start’

Other comments from Washington-based participants: “I’ve never been to a meeting like this. In Washington, we never hear from Iraqis about what they think about the U.S. If we’re talking about Africa, there are rarely any Africans in the room – somehow that’s got to change and this was a great start.”

These government officials were seated between and across from graduate students and faculty in the conflict resolution programs at two universities – EMU and George Mason University – along with two dozen civil society representatives from organizations as diverse as Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Hands (Iraq), and the Southern African Center for Constructive Resolution of Disputes.

Ali Gohar of Pakistan, “rehbar” (guide) of Just Peace International and a graduate of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, said the roundtable showed the value of being willing to listen to those who are different and to learn from them.

“Ignorance of outsiders concerning the history, culture, religion, traditions and economy of Afghanistan and Pakistan has led to disastrous results,” Gohar said. But he was pleased that Agoglia showed clear willingness to address these concerns among U.S. military personnel serving in Afghanistan. Gohar nodded affirmatively when Agoglia spoke of God giving humans two ears and one mouth, which means that people should listen twice as much as they talk.

For his part, the colonel felt that Iraqis and Afghans often fail to credit the U.S. military for apologizing when mistakes have been made and for seeking to make amends and learn from mistakes. “The day demonstrated the need to continuously dialogue, because the players in conflict zones change and the new ones need to be exposed to the lessons and multiple activities of the old ones,” Agoglia said.

Communication to Continue

Professor Schirch said she knew her hopes for the day had been realized when she saw Agoglia exchanging business cards with Gohar and two Afghans currently studying at EMU. “My Afghan colleagues want the U.S. government to talk with the Taliban – they say that is the only way out of the current crisis,” she said.

This exchange of views “shows why peacebuilders here at EMU should talk directly with the military and U.S. government,” Schirch added.