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Euphrates Spotlight

October 17, 2014

Cartoonists from Conflict Areas Draw for Unity

euphrates wc dialogue_nPeace through Dialogue: Search for Common Ground

Something you learn while studying countries in conflict is that while suffering often creates bonds, it doesn’t necessarily eradicate divisions, even when those suffering hail from the same places. Finding common ground is a crucial pursuit not only among warring factions, but also among the ordinary people caught in the crosshairs, who can still fall guilty of prejudice and discrimination. I have seen it here in Tunis—over a million Libyans have come across the border to Tunisia to flee the violence in their country, and they are often faced with harsh discrimination. Palestinians living in Jordan and Lebanon regularly deal with prejudice, having lived for generations in countries that aren’t their true homes. Even my Syrian friends have met unfriendly or offensive comments while traveling in other Arab countries, especially those that host high numbers of refugees.

On top of that, my Arabs friends coming from conflict countries tell me that they can rarely agree with one another on the root of their countries’ problems, how to deal with them, and how to move forward.

Despite all this, there is a way forward, a way that all parties can find their common ground and approach solutions to their ills. That way is dialogue, and it is a pivotal first step.

The Search for Common Ground, an international non-profit promoting and pursuing non-violent conflict resolution and cooperation, recently helped produce three great videos to promote the breaking down of prejudice and barriers. Four cartoon artists from countries in conflict—one from Yemen, one from Syria, one from Libya, and one from Tunisia, came together for a workshop in Tunis to talk about what they felt were the biggest problems in their countries and what might be the solutions. They quickly found that they couldn’t agree on what to point the blame to—was it poverty and unemployment? No, it was terrorism! Was it the influence of religion? No, it was corruption in the government! And are our countries ready for democracy… or not ? Before they knew it, the four cartoonists were fighting amongst each other—and they were on the same side! Watch the video to see their depiction of the conversation, which they illustrated in cartoon drawings.

Here in Tunisia, I see Tunisians arguing over what is the source of their country’s problems and what should be done about it. Some say that Islam should play a role in the country’s government, while others passionately oppose it, even going so far as calling conservative Muslims “terrorists”. Some hail democracy and the new leadership, while others say the old autocratic regime of Ben Ali was better. And these differences have led to polarization in the country. The space for dialogue, however, facilitated by an environment of unprecedented speech and press freedom in the country and easy communication through social media, has helped ease some of these tensions.

Check out SFCG’s video by a Libyan cartoon artist on the importance of choosing peace. The courage and hope that the artist in the video reveals–knowing that his homeland is being torn apart yet still staunchly choosing peace–is beyond inspiring. Then watch this beautiful video put together by Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian artists calling for and end to divisions and the breaking of barriers within the Arab world. Its message: Conflict and differences are inevitable. Violence is not.

Whether it’s different political views within the same country, or different countries within the same conflict-ridden region, it’s time to look at the bigger picture—and that is the common goal of peace and security. It may seem hard to move forward together in tough times, but alone, it is impossible. United, the impossible becomes possible, and the power of peace can be realized.

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