A look ahead to the 25th of November

Somehow, even after living 4 years in Italy, this country still does not cease to surprise me. People from abroad regularly ask me how it is to live in a country that invented the mafia, be it the Sicilian one or variations on the theme such as the Camorra in Naples or ‘ndragheta in Calabria. Media attention flares up now and then, but up north here, one notices little of it. To compare figures: according to the Eures 2007 report about 2006 statistics of Italy, it appears that more people are killed in the confinement between domestic walls within the nuclear family than at the hands of the mafia, and comparatively more domestic homicides in the north of Italy than elsewhere—94 vs. 62 in the south and 39 in the centre of the country[1]. Hence, the problems here are not organized and at one’s doorstep but are within the space of the four walls that is supposed to be a safe and comforting retreat.

Grouping the data by another category, gender, reveals that 134 of the 195 victims are women. Italian’s Istat 2006 statistics add further that there were 6.7 million registered cases of violence against women, of which 70% in the family environment, but that only 1% of the perpetrators is convicted; that much for an indication of facing a systemic problem. This brings me back to the title of this post: the 25th of November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (see also UNIFEM’s facts & figures). If an international day calling attention to the problems changes anything, I don’t know. In Italy, the 2006 figures for familial homicide were up 12.5% compared to 2005.

Perhaps taking into consideration how it came about that it is on the 25th of November, might. Three of the four sisters Mirabal were executed on 25 November 1960 by the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa Mirabal were to a greater or lesser extent part of the resistance against the dictatorial oppression, which the terrorizing state apparatus obviously did not appreciate. Julia Alvarez’ book “In the time of the butterflies” provides a very readable (romanticized) account of the sisters’ lives (their code name was las mariposas, which means `the butterflies’ in Spanish). Hence, this day is actually not only to commemorate courageous women’s struggle against oppression, but also to draw attention to the struggle against injustice in general.

In closing, I’m pulling a quote from a different source and framework for societal organization, which is relevant globally anyway:

“If human beings can learn to order their homes justly so that the human rights of all within its jurisdiction—children, women, and men—are safeguarded, then they can also order their society and the world at large, justly.”

[1] The Eures and Istat data are the digested data as reported in the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, “l’horror tra le mura domestiche”, page 5, d.d. 22-11-2008.

p.s.: the limited wordpress tagging system cuts off the display of long tags, the system itself deals with it as it is supposed to. In casu, the display of “International Day for the Elimination of Violence again” is actually the tag “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women“…

p.p.s.: In addition to UNIFEM’s campaign, here’s an ICT-related one:
Take Back The Tech

ICT for Peace Symposium in the Netherlands

In contrast to the previous event with a similar title (discussed here), this symposium really and honestly did have ICT for Peace as scope. The “Gaming for War or Peace: ICT voor Wereldvrede” Symposium, d.d. 4 Nov 2008, was organized by the Peace Centre Eindhoven. I was one of the four invited speakers, with as topic game theory and conflict resolution.

The first presentation was given by Antoine van den Beemt, who focused on the gaming industry, how youth deals with the violence in the games, and the more constructive, learning-oriented games, where learning is to be understood not in terms of how-to-kill but how-to-collaborate and build some virtual whatever together. Both from the questions and the forum discussion afterward, I do not think he has fully convinced the attendees of the usefulness of computer games. For instance, he claimed that it is ok to use a (any?) computer game to release one’s anger and frustration, to which the chair responded that an electronic drum kit works just as fine (or doing sports, etc.) and an attendee noted that it does not address the root of the problem.

My presentation was about ‘games against terrorism and for conflict resolution’, or: coalition formation among some but not all players during peace negotiations between terrorist groups and the government. It was partially based on a section of my MA thesis on terrorism & game theory and augmented with newer results, and has a very brief look ahead from the AI perspective as to what more could be in store with computational game theory (slides in Dutch and its summary in English). As expected, criticism was voiced that not enough variables were taken into account, like that psychology was set aside and not incorporated in the formulas. And, clearly, [computational] game theory is not a solver of it self, but a facilitator that helps gaining better insight in, understanding better, the situation, so as to form better informed opinions and choose strategies accordingly and that it also may offer simulations of possible resolution scenarios so as to make sensible moves instead of just ‘randomly’ trying out another one. Well, that is the idea, not that all those software simulators for politics exist already.

The third presenter was Tomas Baum, Director of the Flemish Peace Institute (Vlaams Vredesinstituut), who elaborated on the trials and tribulations of setting up a database about arms trafficking. Philosopher by education, he seemed to be more in his element during the panel discussion where more fundamental issues were raised on ethics, peace, education, and research.

The last presenter before the panel discussion George van der Meulen of Compuplan at the Polytechnic University of Eindhoven TU/e. He had many pictures of working GIS software that is being used in socio-political settings to settle land disputes, achieve cross-border collaborations, and so forth.

As alluded to above, the panel discussion was lively with plenty of questions, comments, and opinions from the attendees as well as the panelists (the 4 speakers). What we all could agree on within the scope of the theme, is that ICT is always no more than a facilitator for peace. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to properly address the three questions Peter Schmid, chairperson of the Peace Centre Eindhoven, had set out at the start. Homework, perhaps? The questions are as follows:

  1. Could possible future wars be fought and ended online, so that the spilling of blood (i.e., injuries and deaths) can be avoided?
  2. Will the density of an immense and, at least partially, wise stream of information help to achieve a peaceful society and world peace?
  3. How can ICT, perhaps playfully, contribute to a sustainable peace and sustainable development?