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Shared experience key to peace-building

By James Buchok


WINNIPEG — Just a day before Winnipeg was called the most racist city in Canada, one of its many courageous citizens had set the stage for yet another discussion of peace-building and understanding.

The kind of event that is the annual El-Tassi Lecture at the University of Winnipeg is not infrequent in the Manitoba capital. It was presented Jan. 21, hours ahead of Maclean’s Magazine bestowing the “most racist” title on the city.

Whether at the U of W, St. Paul’s College, Canadian Mennonite University, Asper Jewish Community Campus or Salvation Army Booth University College — and this is by no means an exhaustive list — Winnipeggers talk, listen and learn about tolerance.

“When you find somebody with a common experience you connect, even with an enemy. If you can relate to your enemies, and you can always find a way, that is how you build trust,” said Dr. Patrice Brodeur, Canada Research chair on Islam, Pluralism and Globalization at the University of Montreal and director of research at the KAICIID Dialogue Centre in Vienna, Austria.

“How much real dialogue takes place in our families, or within our workforces?” he asked. “Real exchange is a challenge to all of us.”

The El Tassi Lecture series provides insight on political and religious dynamics in the Middle East and was established in 2012 through a gift from Abdo (Albert) El Tassi to the University of Winnipeg’s Global College. El Tassi was born in Lebanon, where he became a school teacher and principal. He came to Winnipeg in 1969 and his first job was loading trucks in the shipping department of Peerless Garments. In 1978, he was appointed general manager and by 2003 he had become president and CEO.

Brodeur said the term Middle East is an old-fashioned, colonial label that does not help the world’s perception of the area. He said it should be called West Asia or North Africa.

He said in all of the ongoing Gaza-Israel conflict, efforts to solve the problem have always taken a secular approach. “Religious input is muted or disempowered. Why has the Organization of Islamic Co-operation not been included?

Brodeur estimates the world is made up of approximately 33 per cent Christians, 20 per cent Islamists, 15 per cent who declare as non-religious and 13 per cent Hindu with a dozen or more other religions making up the other 20 per cent, “and then there are all the other spiritual variations.”

He said a person’s worldview is created by a combination of the effect of sacred texts, interpretation of the world by others, primarily parents, and personal experiences. Brodeur said one’s personal experiences are both positive and negative and have a major influence in one’s worldview.

Brodeur spoke of perception as knowledge gained by perceiving, and meta-perception as “going beyond feelings toward an individual to the same feelings about an entire group that individual is seen to represent,” and having feelings toward one person based on feelings toward an entire group.

He also spoke of an “inter-worldview” which allows each of us to “construct a global image of the world.” He described inter-worldview as “an inherently dialogical concept (meaning it requires dialogue) that inter-relates every human being’s worldview, and beyond.”

“Dialogue with others is essential to constructing and clarifying what our own worldview is,” he said. “Our thought processes and behaviours depend on our respective worldviews.”

“We relate to other people through our identities but more so though our sub-identities,” Brodeur said, and we each have dozens of sub-identities. For a regular person, in just half a day’s work, they can identify as a commuter, a consumer of media, a consumer of goods, and other sub-identities, even before they have taken on the identity of their work. “And that creates huge groups of people with a shared experience,” Brodeur said.

It is through that shared experience that common ground can be found and peace-building can begin.

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