Does involvement in peace-work imply double-language?
Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/02/2008
This question has been running through my head for some time now. I wonder if I haven’t already treated it in a post. It drifted into my thoughts last summer, when I joined a group of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists meeting in Lyon. During our discussions, I noticed that I spoke differently with each national group. This could have come from the fact that I was able to speak to one group in his mother tongue (Arabic), while it was necessary for me to speak with the other group in a foreign language (English). But that was not always the case. I chose to speak in English most of the time, regardless of the person I was with, so as not to exclude other people could be interested in joining in. Even though I mostly spoke in the same language with both nationals, my discussions differed according to the nationality of the person I was talking to. Being somewhat of an intruder in their group (I was just joining them for a day), I was the one who initiated each conversation. I tried to find a topic that could interest the person I was meeting. Peace work was obviously something we both had an interest in. But even that meant different things to the Palestinian and the Israeli. I’m not saying they had a different understanding of Peace (this seemed to be equally true, but it cut through national belonging and shifted according to ideological affinities). They just belonged to (and worked in) very different social and cultural contexts. So even if they agreed on the same definition of Peace, they had to translate it to two different contexts when working on the ground for its advancement. They had to make it relevant and appealing to their audience. And I was doing exactly the same thing with them… And so I’d speak differently to each. Adapting my speech accordingly. Choosing the relevant examples, topics of intrest, and even wording.
Is there anything wrong in this? Morally or practically? Could it be counterproductive? Is it duplicitous? I don’t think so, at least, not if you make it clear from the onset that you are going to do it, and explain why you’re doing it. And I believe that in doing so, you render the whole interaction and discussion more productive because you pinpoint a major paradox in peace-work: bringing together people who not only disagree, but perceive things differently.