Tag Archives: War

When Doves Cry

It is said that wars begin in the minds of men. Considering the people charged with running Israel and Iran today, this is indeed a frightening prospect. But it’s also a chilling insight into the workings of the human mind in general. Why? Because our minds are filled with biases – unconscious and systematic errors of judgment – that make war with Iran an increasing possibility. We are, as psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman argues, hardwired to find hawkish arguments more convincing than dovish ones.

Kahneman’s lecture was given in 2006 (the english begins 1:48), but the implication for the current and escalating conflict between Israel and Iran are clear. Below I have selected a number of cognitive biases (not all mentioned by Kahneman) that I believe are influencing the recent bellicose rhetoric emanating from Jerusalem and Tehran. For the sake of familiarity I will concentrate on the Israeli hawkish narrative (you can read a recent example here). Continue reading


Awakening to Women: The Nobel Effect

Do women make peace in a different voice? Peter Coleman and I explore some essential peacebuilding lessons culled from the work of recent Noble Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee. As always, if the spirit moves you, please share with your virtual community and leave a comment (criticism welcomed) in the talkback section of the article.

Also, if there was a song that captures the essence of our article it’s this:

Are We Naturally Biased Towards Hawkish Thinking?

Facinating Foreign Policy article by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon on how our minds are naturally biased towards hawkish thinking.

When we constructed a list of the biases uncovered in 40 years of psychological research, we were startled by what we found: All the biases in our list favor hawks. These psychological impulses—only a few of which we discuss here—incline national leaders to exaggerate the evil intentions of adversaries, to misjudge how adversaries perceive them, to be overly sanguine when hostilities start, and overly reluctant to make necessary concessions in negotiations. In short, these biases have the effect of making wars more likely to begin and more difficult to end.

To read article, click here.

Conflict Resolution, One Book At A Time.

Can reading literature help counteract the problem of dehumanization? My latest from Common Ground. Also published in Middle East Online, Global Arab Network, The Daily News, Bikya Masr and Palestine Note.

A basic fact of conflict is that people’s perceptions of each other matter. Viewing someone as subhuman or demonic, for example, reduces people’s inhibitions towards using violence against them. Likewise, negative images of the other escalate conflict through engendering fear, misunderstandings, blame and zero-sum thinking.

Research conducted by psychologist Albert Bandura has demonstrated that individuals inflict much harsher punishments on people whom they view negatively, as opposed to people whom they perceive in neutral or sympathetic terms. Importantly, his experiment also showed that subjects invested with positive qualities were least likely to be harmed.

Because how we imagine others is consequential, it is essential for conflict resolution practitioners to find creative ways to mitigate the destructive influence of negative stereotypes. One approach to tackling this problem was developed by American psychologist Gordon Allport who argued that qualitative contact between conflicting groups is a meaningful way to reduce hostility and prejudice as well as cultivate more positive attitudes between group members.

By qualitative contact, Allport meant direct interpersonal relations between participants of equal status who pursue common goals with the help of institutional support. Some great examples of contact theory put into practice are organisations like Seeds of Peace and bilingual Jewish-Arab schools in Israel such as Hand in Hand.

While personal contact is key to transforming threatening images of the enemy, unfortunately, it is not always a possibility. This is because people, particularly during times of conflict, may not be able to meet face-to-face. Obstacles to contact can include restrictions on travelling, legal concerns or physical danger. Moreover, even if people are able to meet, the contact itself may feel too threatening or emotionally taxing.

In such circumstances, the problem of perception needs to be addressed through other means. One such approach is engagement with literature—a type of vicarious contact theory. Continue reading

All We Are Saying Is Give Religion A Chance


As you may know, I am a secular Jew. In matters of ultimate belief I am an agnostic – which I define as an atheist who does not like to argue with people. However, much to the chagrin of my godless friends, I also have a lot for respect for religion and spirituality. So when the Pope called for religion to be a force for peace in the Middle East, I penned the following article for Haaretz.

Pope Benedict XVI thinks the Middle East could use a little more religion. Not the religion that divides – the kind he practiced when he suggested that Islam was a religion of the sword, or when he re-sanctioned an ancient Good Friday prayer which calls on God to illuminate the hearts of the Jews that they might recognize their savior Jesus Christ – but the kind that binds members of the human family to one another.

During his recent meeting with Muslim leaders in Jordan, the Pope commented that in an age when religion is misused and maligned as a force of discord, it is imperative that religious practitioners live in accord with the highest virtues of their faith.

The Pope also stated that one of the main purposes of his pilgrimage is to help advance the cause of peace: “We [the Catholic Church] are not a political power, but a spiritual force, and this spiritual force is a reality that can contribute to advances in the peace process.” The Holy See explained that he plans on promoting peace by encouraging mass prayers, awakening the world’s conscience, and promoting a reasonable (i.e. two-state) solution to the conflict.

Perhaps the idea that a “spiritual force” can contribute to peace sounds a little puzzling. A typical secular Israeli reply could be, “Thanks but no thanks. We appreciate the good intention (and boost in tourism), but we have had enough spiritual forces to last a lifetime.”

Indeed, a repeated charge in the discourse over the Arab-Israeli conflict is that religion plays a central role in exacerbating and perpetuating the conflict. The conclusion being that removing religion from the scene will go a long way in solving the century-old conflict.

A somewhat comical example of this position comes Marwan Kanafani, special adviser to the late Yasser Arafat, who in 1994 replied to a question about the place of religion in the Oslo peace process by stating:

“The way to take care of religion in the dispute is to put the sheikhs in mosques, the rabbis in synagogues and priests in churches, and then lock the doors behind them and throw the keys away in the sea – they can only interfere with the process.”

This is a seductive but ultimately wrong-headed position. Religion can (and must) play a positive role in the peace process. All the more so in the Holy Land, where religion actually matters. A lot.

To read more, click here. As always, if the spirit moves you, please leave a comment.

Grace Is Gone

Just saw this movie. It is by far one of the best anti-war movies I have seen in my life. With all the news out there about Iraq and Israel, we often forget what is the human cost of war. This movie will not let you forget it. Go and see it. It is a must!