Re: “Palestine teach-in: In our own words”

U of M professor Adam Muller comments on event organizers’ article

Dear editor,

I thought I might take this opportunity to provide a brief and hopefully re-orienting set of remarks relating the opinion piece published in the Manitoban by University of Winnipeg organizers of the recent teach-in and discussion event, “Palestine and Genocide: Reflections on Imperialism, Settler Colonialism, and Decolonization.”

Transformation — of hate into love, of enemies into friends and neighbours — lies at the heart of any peacebuilding effort. Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, considered by many to be the founder of modern peace studies, once famously remarked that “Peace must be built; webs of togetherness must be woven, humanizing where there has been dehumanization, and depolarizing where there has been polarization. Peace has to be kept by numerous and competent nonviolent peace forces inserting themselves so densely between violent parties that there is not enough space left for battle.”

In the absence of any adversarial content and the willingness to cultivate and try to use it, participants in the U of W event failed to promote or otherwise engage with peace. They failed to take seriously perspectives not aligned with critics of Israel, and so their event became little more than another occasion for the righteously indignant to preach loudly and exclusively to the choir. A lost opportunity indeed.

Of course, as another major figure in peace scholarship John Paul Lederach observes, “To speak well and to listen carefully is no easy task at times of high emotions and deep conflict.”

We are most certainly now living through one of these times, and it’s perfectly understandable that people buffeted by anxieties and subjected to expressions of bigotry and hate, not to mention toxic ambivalence, are feeling especially challenged to know what to say and to do when confronted with the agonizing catastrophe that is Gaza today.

Nevertheless, I believe that precisely in virtue of the precious academic freedom they enjoy, scholars have a special responsibility to listen carefully and speak well. Their failure to do so has real-world consequences that can seriously damage individuals and communities while serving to prolong otherwise resolvable conflicts.

For this reason, and others, I think we should heed Lederach and answer the call “as individuals and congregations to learn the disciplines and skills that help us define ourselves, engage each other in non-anxious interaction, and maintain emotional contact even when we disagree.”

I’m afraid that the op-ed crafted by the U of W professors, as well as the event that they organized, both fall considerably short of Lederach’s humane and peaceable standard.


Dr. Adam Muller is a professor and director of the University of Manitoba’s graduate program in peace and conflict studies. He is also the co-editor of Genocide Studies International.