Positive Peace, Local & Global: Sport to Prevent Terrorism

A Norwegian Terrorist Surprises Europe

I’m assuming you heard about what happened in Norway last week?

A man named Anders Behring Breivik, under dramatic political and religious conviction, set a car bomb off near a building in downtown Oslo, killing 7 and wounding more, after which he took a ferry directly to a nearby island where, dressed as a police officer, he proceeded to shoot and kill 70 teenagers and young adults. Methodically.

The day it happened, here in Germany, terrorism experts were called in to news studios to report on the potential of an Islamic terrorist attack – but there was nothing conclusive to guess with. On the next morning, Europe discovered that the attacker was a Norwegian man. A right-wing, Christian extremist. “The Norwegian equivalent of Timothy McVeigh”, said the experts.

I tried to imagine the grief of Norwegian families and friends. The daughter of youth workers, I spent many childhood summers at “camp”. These summers are among the best in my memory — when I think of safety, security, or fun, I think of camp. Have you ever been to summer camp? Ever sent your kids? The whole point is that they are away from the rest of the world, right? Distanced from everything that is supposed to be terrible and unfriendly. Well.

Isn’t Europe Boring Compared to Africa or the Middle East?

If I needed a reminder that conflict resolution is needed in Europe as much as it is in the rest of the world, last week sufficed. I have had various responses to my work this summer – a number of people have asked me why in the world I wanted to spend the summer in Europe, while Meeghan and Sarah and Sarah were in Africa, the Middle East, and other “hot” conflict zones. Europe feels less exciting. If not boring, it feels at least comfortable and secure in comparison to these countries. I have a recurring nightmare where I return to campus in the fall and someone accuses me of using ‘research’ as an excuse for a European sightseeing tour.

I generally respond that there is a lot to learn about critical pedagogy and democratic decision making here, and I am lucky enough to speak two languages this research is published in. This has proven very true. But moreover, As Sarah alluded to in an earlier post, “peace” is not only the absence of war, it must also be defined as the presence of something positive; the presence of justice – or to paraphrase J.P. Lederach (who paraphrases the Bible), where “Truth, Justice, Mercy, and Peace” meet. And while it is absolutely clear that we must struggle to obtain peace in locations of prolonged, violent conflict, I am convinced we must also struggle to maintain and deepen peace in countries with high security. Norway is one of the most secure countries in the world, for goodness sakes! We students of peace and conflict resolution envy their Institutes and Masters/PhD programs. But they are not isolated from the rest of the world. In fact I would argue that it is precisely because of increased connectivity caused by globalization (see Fathali Moghaddam’s book, The New Global Insecurity for a more detailed examination of this concept) that research on peace and conflict resolution is as necessary in Europe today as it is in Israel and Palestine. Peace research, like action for peace, must “think globally” and “act locally.”

Battling Terrorism – Building Critical Consciousness through Sport

A second point that the tragedy in Norway convinced me of is the fundamental importance of local programs building global consciousness, self-awareness, and conflict resolution/democratic skills. An example: Three days after the attack, my research led me to visit a mini World Cup  (my second this summer!) near Stuttgart – running parallel to the FIFA Women’s Soccer World Cup, it was the finale of a month-long tournament featuring kids’ teams from all over Southern Germany.

The tournament was played based on “Street Football” rules. Street Football is an alternative approach to soccer that was first developed in (literally on the streets of) South America, in one of the most violent regions in the world. In Street Football, kids play on smaller-as-regulation fields, with teams of 4-6 players. Each team must have at least one girl, and a girl must score a goal during the game in order for the goals from the boys to be counted. Games last 7 minutes each. Before game begin, the opposing teams agree together on 3 “fair play” rules. (Examples include handshakes before and after the game, not insulting the other team, or high-fives on both sides following each goal). The kids referee the games themselves, according to the 3 rules they dreamed up.

At the end of the game, the teams re-group. “Teamers”, young adults who are trained in the Street Football approach, have watched the game and counted the points. They ask the opposing teams, “How did you feel during the game? Was it fair?” In this, the “3rd Halftime”, the opposing teams discuss fairness and decide together how many fair play points (1-3, depending on the rules they decided on before the game), to award one another. These points are counted together with the total goals scored, after which the winner will be decided.

With Privilege Comes Responsibility

Playing in the KickFair World Cup is a lot of fun. But “3rd Halftimes” can also be unpleasant. Even though they rarely last longer than 5-10 minutes, they require a lot of patience from everyone involved. Emotions are high after the game, and since each individual saw the game from his or her own perspective, it’s easy to disagree. But everyone must agree in order for points to be awarded. Teamers, even though they had an overview from the sidelines, have to do more listening to the participants than talking. Parents, by the way, are not allowed in the dialogue zone of the 3rd Halftime.

I was explaining “Street Football” rules to a good friend recently who replied, “But isn’t that challenging? I mean, I imagine it’s very hard for 10 year olds to come up with their own rules, referee their own games, and decide on the how to award points. That’s a lot of responsibility!”

I thought for a bit. She was right – it is a lot responsibility. But kids respond very well to this approach. They manage the responsibility without violence – in fact, with teamwork — and keep playing. It’s often the grown-ups looking on that make a big deal or become very upset. We’re the ones that are scared!

So I responded to my friend, “But isn’t that the point? Democracy is hard! Democratic societies require critical participation from responsible citizens. Aren’t we underestimating our kids by saying ‘here are the rules – go play by them’?”

Successful democracies are processes. They require people who are conscious about themselves and their relationships with others, who think critically about their positions and search for compromises with those who are different than them. We’re witnessing that right now through the budget crisis in Washington, the establishment of a new government in Egypt, and the discussions over the Euro in the EU.

The greatest threat, I believe, is raising children that see the world in black and white – who accept authority without questioning it, and play by rules because they are ordered to and not because they believe they are the best or most creative way to play. Encouraging responsibility, self-awareness, and democratic processes – my belief is that this quality leads toward security and away from fear, destruction, and terror.

This project is supported bhttps://sportandpeace.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpy a cooperation between Georgetown University’s Masters Program in Conflict Resolution and Generations for Peace.

To learn more about Street Football World in Germany or near you, check out StreetFootballWorld, KICKFAIR, and Integration Durch Sport

For more info on the recent terrorist attack in Norway, check out the following articles from the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/world/europe/24oslo.html?emc=eta1

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/29/world/europe/29norway.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=global-home

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2 responses to “Positive Peace, Local & Global: Sport to Prevent Terrorism

  1. I have thought of your work since the tragedy in Norway happened because the shooter’s goals were anti-Islamic immigration and what you are working on so often seeks to help assimilation happen in Western Europe. I would argue one point, though, I think the correct description of the shooter is deranged, not Christian.

    • Thanks for the comment!
      1) You’re right, this terrorist was most likely deranged – but then you would have to qualify Al Quaida terrorists as equally deranged, no?
      2) I do think it’s important to distinguish between assimilation and integration — my resarch concerns intercultural education/integration, which is different from assimilation — but check out the NYT article below for an interesting piece on “assimilation culture’ in Norway!

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