Reblogging 2011: Essay on the Nonviolent Personality

From the “10 years of keetblog – reblogging: 2011”: of the general interest ones, this was most definitely the one that has taken up most time—not to write the post, but what it talks about: it reports on the Italian->English translation of a booklet “The nonviolent personality”, which took over 2 years to complete. Giuliano Pontara, whom I had the pleasure to finally meet in person in Stockholm last October, wrote the original in Italian. 

Essay on the Nonviolent Personality; March 3

———-

La personalità nonviolenta—the nonviolent personality—is the title of a booklet I stumbled upon in a bookshop in Trento in spring 2004 whilst being in the city for my internship at the Laboratory for Applied Ontology. The title immediately raises the question: what, then, actually does constitute a nonviolent personality? The author of the booklet, Giuliano Pontara, since recently an emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Stockholm, aims to contribute to answer this question that certainly does not have simple answer.

The booklet itself is out of print (having been published in 1996) and, moreover, written in Italian, which most people in the world cannot understand. However, in my opinion at least, Pontara’s proposed answer certainly deserves a wider audience, contemplation, and further investigation. So I set out to translate it into English and put it online for free. That took a while to accomplish, and the last year was certainly the most interesting one with multiple email exchanges with Giuliano Pontara about the finer details of the semantics of the words and sentences in both the Italian original and the English translation. Now here it is: The Nonviolent Personality [pdf, 1.7MB] (low bandwidth version [pdf, 287KB]).

So what is it about? Here is the new back flap summary of the booklet:

At the beginning of the new century, the culture of peace finds itself facing many and difficult challenges. This booklet surveys some of these challenges and the characteristics that a mature culture of peace should have in order to respond to them. Particularly, it investigates what type of person is more apt to be a carrier of such a mature culture of peace: the nonviolent personality. Finally, it addresses the question regarding the factors that in the educative process tend to impede and favour, respectively, the development of moral subjects equipped with a nonviolent personality.

The original Italian version was written by Giuliano Pontara, emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Stockholm, and published in 1996, but its message is certainly not outdated and perhaps even more important in the current climate. Why this is so, and why it is useful to have a more widely accessible version of the booklet available, is motivated in the introduction by Maria Keet, Senior Lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

A slightly longer description

The first chapter of the book, having been written in the mid-nineties, discusses the then-current political situation in the world. Pontara describes the post-Cold War situation, touches upon separatism, nationalism, fundamentalism, exploitation and totalitarian capitalism (among other challenges). This includes the “cow-boy ethics” and the return of the Nazi mentality, the latter not being about Arian supremacy, but the glorification of force (and violence in general) and contempt for ‘the weak’, the might-is-right adagio, and that cow-boy ethics has been elevated to prime principle of conducting international politics. You can analyse and decide yourself if the shoe fits for a particular country’s culture and politics, be it then or now. After this rather gloomy first chapter, the first step toward a positive outlook is described in Chapter 2, which looks at several basic features of a mature culture of peace.

The core of the booklet is Chapter 3, which commences with listing ten characteristics of a nonviolent personality:

  • Rejection of violence
  • The capability to identify violence
  • The capability to have empathy
  • Refusal of authority
  • Trust in others
  • The disposition to communicate
  • Mildness
  • Courage
  • Self-sacrifice
  • Patience

These characteristics are discussed in detail in the remainder of the chapter. Read it if you want to know what is meant with these characteristics, and why.

Chapter 4 considers education at school, at home, and through other influences (such as the TV), describing both the problems in the present systems and what can to be done to change it. For example, educating students to develop a critical moral conscience, analyse, and to be able to think for oneself (as opposed to rote-learning in a degree-factory), not taking a dualistic approach but facilitating creative constructive solutions instead, and creating an atmosphere that prevents the numbing of conscience, the weakness of the senses, consumerism, and conformism of the mass-media. Also some suggestions for class activities are suggested, but note that education does not end there: it is a continuous process in life.

The English writing style may not be perfect (the spelling and grammar checkers do not complain though); either way, it tries to strike a balance between the writing style of the original and readability of the English text. And no, the translation was not done with Google translate or a similar feature, but manually and there are some notes on the translation at the end of the new booklet. Other changes or additions compared to the Italian original are the new foreword by Pontara and introduction by me, an index, bibliography in alphabetical order and several Italian translations in the original have been substituted with the original English reference, and there are biographical sketches. I did the editing and typesetting in Latex, so it looks nice and presentable.

Last, but not least:
Creative Commons License
The Nonviolent Personality by Maria Keet is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Essay on the Nonviolent Personality

La personalità nonviolenta—the nonviolent personality—is the title of a booklet I stumbled upon in a bookshop in Trento in spring 2004 whilst being in the city for my internship at the Laboratory for Applied Ontology. The title immediately raises the question: what, then, actually does constitute a nonviolent personality? The author of the booklet, Giuliano Pontara, since recently an emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Stockholm, aims to contribute to answer this question that certainly does not have simple answer.

The booklet itself is out of print (having been published in 1996) and, moreover, written in Italian, which most people in the world cannot understand. However, in my opinion at least, Pontara’s proposed answer certainly deserves a wider audience, contemplation, and further investigation. So I set out to translate it into English and put it online for free. That took a while to accomplish, and the last year was certainly the most interesting one with multiple email exchanges with Giuliano Pontara about the finer details of the semantics of the words and sentences in both the Italian original and the English translation. Now here it is: The Nonviolent Personality [pdf, 1.7MB] (low bandwidth version [pdf, 287KB]).

So what is it about? Here is the new back flap summary of the booklet:

At the beginning of the new century, the culture of peace finds itself facing many and difficult challenges. This booklet surveys some of these challenges and the characteristics that a mature culture of peace should have in order to respond to them. Particularly, it investigates what type of person is more apt to be a carrier of such a mature culture of peace: the nonviolent personality. Finally, it addresses the question regarding the factors that in the educative process tend to impede and favour, respectively, the development of moral subjects equipped with a nonviolent personality.

The original Italian version was written by Giuliano Pontara, emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Stockholm, and published in 1996, but its message is certainly not outdated and perhaps even more important in the current climate. Why this is so, and why it is useful to have a more widely accessible version of the booklet available, is motivated in the introduction by Maria Keet, Senior Lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

A slightly longer description

The first chapter of the book, having been written in the mid-nineties, discusses the then-current political situation in the world. Pontara describes the post-Cold War situation, touches upon separatism, nationalism, fundamentalism, exploitation and totalitarian capitalism (among other challenges). This includes the “cow-boy ethics” and the return of the Nazi mentality, the latter not being about Arian supremacy, but the glorification of force (and violence in general) and contempt for ‘the weak’, the might-is-right adagio, and that cow-boy ethics has been elevated to prime principle of conducting international politics. You can analyse and decide yourself if the shoe fits for a particular country’s culture and politics, be it then or now. After this rather gloomy first chapter, the first step toward a positive outlook is described in Chapter 2, which looks at several basic features of a mature culture of peace.

The core of the booklet is Chapter 3, which commences with listing ten characteristics of a nonviolent personality:

  • Rejection of violence
  • The capability to identify violence
  • The capability to have empathy
  • Refusal of authority
  • Trust in others
  • The disposition to communicate
  • Mildness
  • Courage
  • Self-sacrifice
  • Patience

These characteristics are discussed in detail in the remainder of the chapter. Read it if you want to know what is meant with these characteristics, and why.

Chapter 4 considers education at school, at home, and through other influences (such as the TV), describing both the problems in the present systems and what can to be done to change it. For example, educating students to develop a critical moral conscience, analyse, and to be able to think for oneself (as opposed to rote-learning in a degree-factory), not taking a dualistic approach but facilitating creative constructive solutions instead, and creating an atmosphere that prevents the numbing of conscience, the weakness of the senses, consumerism, and conformism of the mass-media. Also some suggestions for class activities are suggested, but note that education does not end there: it is a continuous process in life.

The English writing style may not be perfect (the spelling and grammar checkers do not complain though); either way, it tries to strike a balance between the writing style of the original and readability of the English text. And no, the translation was not done with Google translate or a similar feature, but manually and there are some notes on the translation at the end of the new booklet. Other changes or additions compared to the Italian original are the new foreword by Pontara and introduction by me, an index, bibliography in alphabetical order and several Italian translations in the original have been substituted with the original English reference, and there are biographical sketches. I did the editing and typesetting in Latex, so it looks nice and presentable.

Last, but not least:
Creative Commons License
The Nonviolent Personality by Maria Keet is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

UNESCO’s take on engineering and development

UNESCO’s report on Engineering: Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities for Development that was published recently does not have any particular section about or message for computing, but that did not deter me from flicking through the roughly 400 pages and read a few sections. In short (according to the exec summary), the report “is an international response to the pressing need for the engineering community to engage with both these wider audiences and the private sector in promoting such an agenda for engineering – and for the world.”, given that “engineering, innovation and technology are part of the solution to global issues”.

Aside from the need for better statistics and more precisely identifying who is an ‘engineer’, there are sections on the national and international engineering bodies, engineering ethics with, among others, the World Federation of Engineering Organizations’ model code of ethics, engineering and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and several country-specific assessments.

Some SA statistics

It was through the latter topic that I stumbled upon the answer to questions and criticisms raised during the Annual NACI symposium on the leadership roles of women in science, technology and innovation that I reported on last summer. Several participants of the symposium wanted to se a breakdown of the numbers of publications by age group, as the suspicion was that it is old white men who produce most papers. Page 182 of the UNESCO report has the details, provided by Johann Mouton and Nelius Boshoff from Stellenbosch University. In 1990-1992, the numbers of engineering papers produced by researchers <30 years of age was 10%, but that gradually went down to a mere 5% in 2002-2004, whereas for the >=50 years age group, this went up in the same years from 26% to 39%, all the while that the percentage of engineering articles in the same period went from 5% to 7%. It has to be noted that the percentages for female authors went up from 6 to 11% and for African authors from 3 to 10%. There is also a table with a race-by-gender distribution of graduates at all third-level education degrees, measuring 1996 and 2006. Many things can be read in the numbers (see table, below), and I will not burn myself on my, relatively uninformed, interpretation of these data, except for noting that, given that there is a doubling of doctorates, to me it seems odd that there is relatively a lower output by young researchers. If anyone has an informed explanation, feel free to leave a comment.

Engineering and the MDG

Section 6 of the report looks into engineering and the MDG. The role of engineering to meeting the MDG goes from building infrastructure to have clean water and sanitation to roads (p253 has a large table with the relationship between physical infrastructure and the MDGs, in case you have any doubts they are related). Instead of prior mega-projects that have loose ends when it comes to ongoing operation and maintenance, one has to go to a needs-based approach using a so-called unified-design approach, argue Jo da Silva and Susan Thomas form Arup (pp250-252): “Taken seriously, a unified approach requires us to address issues in depth, in breadth, at their intersections, and over time. Behavioural psychologists, sociologists, physicists, anthropologists, economists, and public health officials all need to be engaged in a broader definition of the design and engineering.”. The remainder of section 6 considers the main MDGs and several case studies, including touching upon the greening of engineering, education and capacity-building, and the issues and challenges of the WEHAB agenda (Water and sanitation, Energy, Health, Agriculture productivity, and Biodiversity and ecosystem management) that are summarized on p262.

Ron Watermeyer form Soderlund and Schutte illustrates differences in priorities between “the ‘North’ (developed nations) and ‘South’ (developing nations)”, who have “‘green’” and “‘brown’” agendas, respectively (see figure). The former “focuses on the reduction of the environmental impact of urban-based production, consumption and water generation on natural resources and ecosystems, and ultimately on the world’s life support system. As such it addresses the issue of affluence and over consumption”, whereas the latter “focuses on poverty and under development. As such, it addresses the need to reduce the environmental threats to health that arise from poor sanitary conditions, crowding, inadequate water provision, hazardous air and water pollution, and the accumulation of solid waste. It is generally more pertinent in poor, under-serviced cities or regions.”. (p265-266). Now, link that to Silva and Thomas’ needs-based approach, mentioned above.

Further points are made in Section 6.1 about prevention and mitigation of risks, disasters, and emergencies where engineering can help out in such a way that certainly costs less than not doing anything.

Gaps

Perhaps I am a bit biased by my education, but I find it a pity that there is only one 1-page paragraph dedicated to agricultural engineering; a sustainable production column producing healthy food accessible to the people is of vital importance and with which one can prevent many other problems.

Anyway, throughout the text, agriculture is referred to at least still a lot more often than the “computer and systems engineering” and “software engineering” that are mentioned in Section 1.1 as a type of engineering, but somehow did not make it in the assessment for opportunities for development. That is short-changing ICT a bit, I think, as there are many issues and opportunities for ICT usage for development and contributing to meeting the MDG, which I wrote about in earlier posts, such as about ISF’s projects outlined during the Aperitivo Informatico at FUB, micro-credit with Kiva, ICT & peace & gender & Africa, ICT for development and sovereignty, and mobile electronic health records in Kenya, among many other online information sources and books on the topic and the ICT and Development Conference (ICTD 2010) that starts today in London.

Aperitivo Informatico at FUB: new ways of inclusion and participation

One of the 28 events during the 5-day long “UniDays” (it, de) at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano (FUB) was the “Aperitivo Informatico” (held this morning from 11 to about 2pm) that had as theme informatics & democracy with new forms of inclusion and direct participation, closing the digital divide, and online social networks.

The invited guests were: Gabriella Dodero, rector’s delegate for the “diversamente abili” (disabled), Rosella Gennari, FUB PI of the EU FP7 project TERENCE (Technology Enhanced Learning area) and national project LODE (a LOgic-based e-learning tool for DEaf children), Luca Nicotra, Secretary of Agorà Digitale, Paolo Campostrini, a journalist of the Alto Adige newspaper, and Paolo Mazzucato, a journalist for Radio Rai. My role as invited guest was to represent Informatici Senza Frontiere (ISF, Informaticians without borders, an Italian NGO).

The first topics that passed the revue were about what FUB does for the differently abled, noting that there is (and has been) support for blind and deaf people both in the FUB structures and providing suitable software etc, and Gabriella Dodero is also looking into support for people with dyslexia (even though in Italy it is not categorized as a disability). Rosella Gennari zoomed in on deaf children and development of suitable computer-supported learning environments for young poor comprehenders. Luca Nicotra introduced Agorà Digitale, a political/lobby organization concerned with democracy, privacy, net neutrality, and the way of dissemination of information that is an essential component of a well-functioning democracy.

I introduced various projects of ISF, which does not look so much at so-called trash-ware (shipping [dumping?] old hardware to less computerized locations), but, among others, putting effort into developing suitable software for the locale, such as the (open source) openHospital implemented in countries such as Kenya, Uganda, and Benin for day-to-day management of hospital data, installing financial software for managing microcredit in Madagascar, reconnecting Congo to the internet (hospitals and the University Masi Manimba in particular), openStaff in Chad to, among others, provide assistance to refugees, developing controlInfantil in Ecuador, as well as projects in Italy to narrow the digital divide, such as connecting hospitalized children with a long-term illness to their family, friends, and school in a hospital in Brescia, and a computer room and providing basic IT courses in the casa dell’ospitalità in Mestre. (note: some information about these and other projects is also available in English)

Other topics that passed the revue what the future might bring us for Internet & democratization and if the Internet merits to be awarded the Nobel Peace prize (see also Internet for peace). Response on the second topic was diverse, with Dodero continuing her work regardless if it were awarded a prize or not, Gennari jokingly mentioning that after Obama, then, well, why not, whereas Nicotra was not at all that positive about the idea because the Internet can be used for the worse as well and become monopolized like TV and radio before it. Like with most, if not all, technologies, they can be used for the benefit and detriment of society and humankind, and this holds for the Internet just as much and in all three principal components: regarding the hardware (and limitations to connect due to, e.g., blockades), the software for accessibility by diverse groups of peoples, and the generation & dissemination of (dis)information. That is, Internet technologies themselves are not intrinsically good and just (the first networked computers were at DARPA, a research facility of USA defense forces). And perhaps it is not too far fetched to stretch the information component to the ‘Web of Knowledge’ with its current incarnation as the Semantic Web—thus far, it has been used mostly to indeed share, link, and integrate data, information, and knowledge more efficiently and effectively; let us keep focussing on the positive, constructive, side of the usage of Semantic Web technologies.

Peer-to-peer micro-credit over the Internet with Kiva

Creative software applications for development are on the rise. I mentioned a few such tools in earlier posts (here, here, and here), ranging from electronic health records to Web 2.0 social networking in post conflict situations, and even Google.org is extending its toolset (see also the recent Google.org blog post about it). The earlier mentioned tools operate at the destination and might seem ‘far’ away. Recently I stumbled upon the Kiva site through ISF, which brings one of such applications at your fingertips and lets you connect with those people ‘far’ away.

Kiva is based on the micro-credit financing approach pioneered with the Grameen Bank and for which Grameen and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. With Kiva, it is not a single bank in Bangladesh that lends to the local entrepreneurs, but an amalgamation of individuals, groups, and companies from across the world that—through the Kiva website—lend $25 at a time to people’s entrepreneurial projects presented on the website, and who then receive the actual money through ‘field representatives’, i.e., local micro-credit finance organizations (MFI) in the countries that Kiva collaborates with.

That is: you choose how and where your money gets used, and, in almost all cases, have your investment paid back in full—and all that with a few mouse-clicks (see graphical explanation of the business process). In addition, you don’t put all your eggs into one basket, but pool together with other lenders to reach the requested funds; put differently: the risk of not seeing back the full amount of your investments is spread out over the whole group of lenders to the chosen project. Further, the lender lends without interest (and I sure hope the local MFI do have none or a low interest rates), and the financial ‘return on investment’ can vary also due to fluctuations in currency exchange rates. The human and social ‘return on investment’ surely is positive.

Thus far (today), some of the Kiva statistics are: $125, 340,035 is the total value of all loans made, of which 98,48% is the current repayment rate, and the number of entrepreneurs that have received a loan is 316,314 of which 82,32% are women, and the average loan is $397.62. Lenders come from 194 countries and there are 53 countries where Kiva’s field partners operate.

The business proposals presented on the website are accompanied by a brief background of the entrepreneurs, a photo, and what they want to use the funds for. Those aims range from agriculture (e.g., to buy two cows and sell the milk), to groceries (e.g., extending the well-running shop, spare parts for a car to increase house deliveries), clothing (e.g., to buy more and better equipment to make them), and much more. The projects are located primarily in Asia, Africa, or Central- and South America, and a large majority of the entrepreneurs are women.

The website also has a blog and email updates where they put short updates about ongoing projects. Although this concept of Kiva probably will not beat the most profitable industries on the Internet, it at least tries to put the networking to constructive use, and it likely will do so even more when the site will be available in more languages and entrepreneurial projects of more countries will be available. Though with such an increase, the currently reasonable search function will have to be improved upon so as to keep finding information quickly. Overall, perhaps it may become an example of the ‘Internet for peace’.

P.S.: True, the Kiva approach is not without baggage, and it surely is not, nor should it be, the only means to narrow the disparities in living circumstances between the entrepreneurs and (potential) lenders, but, in my opinion, it deserved the benefit of the doubt. So, yes, I did give it a try. At the moment I write this, with my and 112 other lends, a clothing sales person in Honduras, teachers in Sierra Leone, and a seamstress in Nigeria have the opportunity to realize their ideas to have a more fulfilling life and improve their lot, and I wish them all the best with it. It is not ‘we’, who are relatively rich, who tell them what to do, but the entrepreneurs themselves who decide how to make the best use of the money, which hopefully is empowering. As isolated projects, this may seem insignificant in ‘the big picture’, but it is significant for the people involved and many little bits do amount to a lot.

ICT, Africa, peace, and gender

Just in case you thought that the terms in the title are rather eclectic, or even mutually exclusive, then you are wrong. ICT4Peace is a well-known combination, likewise for other organisations and events, such as the ICT for peace symposium in the Netherlands that I wrote about earlier. ICT & development activities, e.g., by Informatici Senza Frontiere, and ICT & Africa (or here or here, among many sites) is also well-known. There is even more material for ICT & gender. But what, then, about the combination of them?

Shastry Njeru sees links between them and many possibilities to put ICT to good use in Africa to enhance peaceful societies and post-conflict reconstruction where women play a pivotal role [1]. Not that much has been realized yet; so, if you are ever short on research or implementation topics, then Njeru’s paper undoubtedly will provide you with more topics than you can handle.

So, what, then, can ICT be used for in peacebuilding, in Africa, by women? One topic that features prominently in Njeru’s paper is communication among women to share experiences, exchange information, build communities, keep in contact, have  “discussion in virtual spaces, even when physical, real world meetings are impossible on account of geographical distance or political sensitivities” and so forth, using skype, blogs and other Web 2.0 tools such as Flickr, podcasts, etc., Internet access in their own language, and voice and video to text hardware and software to record the oral histories. A more general suggestion, i.e., not necessarily related to only women or only Africa is that “ICT for peacebuilding should form the repository for documents, press releases and other information related to the peace process”.

Some examples of what has been achieved already are: the use of mobile phone networks in Zambia to advocate women’s rights, Internet access for women entrepreneurs in textile industries in Douala in Cameroon, and ICT and mobile phone businesses are used as instruments of change by rural women in various ways in Uganda [1], including the Ugandan CD-ROM project [2].

Njeru thinks that everything can be done already with existing technologies that have to be used more creatively and such that there are policies, programmes, and funds that can overcome the social, political, and economic hurdles to realise the gendered ICT for peace in Africa. Hardware, maybe yes, but surely not software.

Regarding the hardware, mobile phone usage is growing fast (some reasons why) and Samsung, Sharp and Sanyo have jumped on board already with the solar panel-fuelled mobile phones to solve the problem of (lack of reliable) energy supply. The EeePc and the one laptop per child projects and the likes are nothing new either, nor are the palm pilots that are used for OpenMRS’s electronic health records in rural areas in, among others, Kenya. But this is not my area of expertise, so I will leave it to the hardware developers for the final [yes/no] on the question if extant hardware suffices.

Regarding software, developing a repository for the documents, press releases etc. is doable with current software as well, but a usable repository requires insight into how then the interfaces have to be designed so that it suits best for the intended users and how the data should be searched; thus, overall, it may not be simply a case of deployment of software, but also involve development of new applications. Internet access, including those Web 2.0 applications, in one’s own language requires localization of the software and a good strategy on how one can coordinate and maintain such software. This is very well doable, but it is not already lying on the shelf waiting to be deployed.

More challenging will be figuring out the best way to manage all the multimedia of photos, video reports, logged skype meetings and so forth. If one does not annotate them, then they are bound to end up in a ‘write-only’ data silo. However, those reports should not be (nor have been) made to merely save them, but one also should be able to find, retrieve, and use the information contained in them. A quick-and-dirty tagging system or somewhat more sophisticated wisdom-of-the-crowds tagging methods might work in the short term, but it will not in the long run, and thereby still letting those inadequately annotated multimedia pieces getting dust. An obvious direction for a solution is to create the annotation mechanism and develop an ontology about conflict & peacebuilding, develop a software system to put the two together, develop applications to access the properly annotated material, and train the annotators. This easily can take up the time and resources of an EU FP7 Integrated Project.

Undoubtedly, observation of current practices, their limitations, and subsequent requirements analysis will bring afore more creative opportunities of usage of ICT in a peacebuilding setting targeting women as the, mostly untapped, prime user base. A quick search on ICT jobs in Africa or peacebuilding (on the UN system and its affiliated organizations, and the NGO industry) to see if the existing structures invest in this area did not show anything other than jobs at their respective headquarters such as website development, network administration, or ICT group team leader. Maybe upper management does not realise the potential, or it is seen merely as an afterthought? Or maybe more grassroots initiatives have to be set up, be successful, and then organisations will come on board and devote resources to it? Or perhaps companies and venture capital should be more daring and give it a try—mobile phone companies already make a profit and some ‘philanthropy’ does well for a company’s image anyway—and there is always the option to take away some money from the military-industrial complex.

Whose responsibility would it be (if any) to take the lead (if necessary) in such endeavours? Either way, given that investment in green technologies can be positioned as a way out of the recession, then so can it be for ICT for peace(building) aimed at women, be they in Africa or other continents where people suffer from conflicts or are in the process of reconciliation and peacebuilding. One just has to divert the focus of ICT for destruction, fear-moderation, and the likes to one of ICT for constructive engagement, aiming at inclusive technologies and those applications that facilitate development of societies and empower people.

References

[1] Shastry Njeru. (2009). Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Gender, and Peacebuilding in Africa: A Case of Missed Connections. Peace & Conflict Review, 3(2), 32-40.

[2] Huyer S and Sikoska T. (2003). Overcoming the Gender Digital Divide: Understanding the ICTs and their potential for the Empowerment of Women. United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW), Instraw Research Paper Series No. 1., 36p.

An official response on the dirty war index

A while a go I posted an informal review of the dirty war index (DWI) and its tightly related problem of biased databases, which was in response to Hicks and Spagat’s paper about the DWI [1] in PLoS Medicine. In the meantime, I have written that in an article-style format and have structured the arguments into one narrative; this just got published [2] in the Fall issue of the Peace & Conflict Review journal.

Like PLoS, PCR is an open access journal, so the short article is freely available online in html and pdf format that is coordinated and provided by the UN-mandated University for Peace. When you download the pdf, you get the rest of the Fall issue with it, which has a special feature with an analysis of Obama’s Prague speech on moral responsibility of the United States, an assessment of development models in conflict settings, and much more.

References

[1] Hicks MH-R, Spagat M (2008) The Dirty War Index: A public health and human rights tool for examining and monitoring armed conflict outcomes. PLoS Med 5(12): e243. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050243.

[2] Keet, C.M. (2009). Dirty wars, databases, and indices. Peace & Conflict Review, 4(1):75-78.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi in Bolzano

The coincidentally very timely event “Euromediterranea” organised by the
Alexander Langer foundation has as theme “Equal Rights Iran”. In that context, the International Andreas Langer Award 2009 went to the Iranian Narges Mohammadi, but she could not attend because her passport was taken by the authorities. During the opening of the event two days ago, she has joined by phone to give the acceptance speech. Advertisement for the “One Million Signatures” campaign passed the revue as well. Other events are scheduled, one of which was held yesterday morning at the European Academy in Bolzano about women’s rights in Iran, and human rights in general and, given the current situation in Iran, also about that. The event hosted both 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi and distinguished Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena.

Shirin Ebadi at EurAc

Shirin Ebadi at EurAc

Shirin Ebadi talked about the lack of equal rights for women and men in Iran, though noting that it is not at all that great in other countries either. Women in Iran have the right to vote—a right obtained even before Swiss women did—, there are 30 MPs, one of Achmadinejad’s vice-persons is a woman, and the majority of university students are female. However, exercising the right to divorce is rather difficult for women (not for men) and the life of a woman counts for half of that of a man (e.g., in court, two testimonies of women value the same as one testimony by a man). After describing the facts, Ebadi asked the question “where do those laws come from?” Sharia? No. Easy counter-examples can be, and were, given from different countries and regions that use the Sharia but have widely different laws for women (education for women allowed or not, women allowed to drive a car or not, etc.); i.e., there are multiple interpretations of Islam. Instead, local customs and the cultural patriarchy are to blame and there are things being done in name of religion, which are actually not written in the books as such. The solution Ebadi then proposed is to have a separation of state and church (in casu, state and mosque, but the translator said church), which is not a panacea, but she expects that equal rights for men and women of all denominations and ethnic backgrounds will fare better in such a configuration.

Much can be written on the current affairs, but Ebadi summarised her impression succinctly: people are tired of violence and they want reforms, not a revolution.

Giuliana Sgrena at EurAc

Giuliana Sgrena at EurAc

Giuliana Sgrena, who spoke after Ebadi, started with a quick note on the sad state of affairs and rights of women Italy, but swiftly proceeded to the lousy news coverage, which provides situations, snapshots, but not the discourse. This is also applicable to the current news coverage about Iran, which will be out of sight (and probably out of mind) of the Italians, but out of sight does not mean that the issues are solved. Returning to the theme of the event, she rhetorically asked how one could talk about democracy if women do not even have full rights, be it in Iran or other countries in the world. What she has observed reporting from different countries where the population is predominantly Muslim, is that there are many commonalities in the (lack of) equal rights, yet that the disadvantaged groups feel isolated. In addition, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be, well, universal. In line with Ebadi’s speech, Sgrena said that religion and culture/tradition are being exploited to sustain a patriarchal society. Last, she’s convinced one should not strive for tolerance (I assume she included with that also cultural relativism) but for equality.

After the speeches, it was time for people in the audience to ask questions. One that generally receives little attention was raised by an attendee from South Africa, which is about the emancipation of men to keep up with women’s emancipation (apparently not going well over there). This reminded me instantly about a silly state-sponsored advertising campaign in the early ’90s in the Netherlands saying that “A smart girl is prepared for her future” so as to get girls to choose a technical study to obtain a real job and be economically independent, which was promptly countered with the slogan “a real bloke irons his own shirt” in the sense that they should give a hand or two in the household and with raising the offspring (it rhymes in Dutch: ‘een slimme meid is op haar toekomst voorbereid’ en ‘een echte vent strijkt zijn eigen overhemd’ see discussion [in Dutch]). So, how is the situation in Iran? Ebadi mentioned that they have many men participating in the equal rights campaign, some of whom even got arrested for being involved, and that an important convincing argument was that with equal rights, men are better of as well: it’s a win-win scenario.

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?

IFIP TC9 workshop on ICT uses in war and not-peace

I had the honour of being allowed to attend the IFIP TC 9 (“relationship between Computers and Society”) Workshop on “ICT uses in Warfare and the Safeguarding of Peace” yesterday, which was held at the CSIR Convention Center in Pretoria, South Africa, that covered an array of topics, such as cyber threats, network warfare, ICT for command & control and for socio-tech, and militarizing the FIFA Worldcup 2010, summarized further below and sandwiched between general comments on IT and the military.

Pre-workshop event and considerations

Beforehand, there had occurred some attempts to ‘massage’ me, in that one of the organisers already had figured out that, possibly, I would not be interested in the second part of the workshop that would focus on ICT for destruction and damage control, and I had participated in a meeting with the CSIR Department of peace, Safety & Security (DPSS) earlier in the week, of which they thought I might be interested—in contributing my knowledge to enhance, as it unfolded during that meeting, the PsyOps section as part of Information Warfare. PsyOps is an abbreviation for Psychological Operations, which is a euphemism for (1) torturing detainees to beyond breaking point, which does not leave physical scars so proving it in court is more difficult[n1], (2) mind manipulation of the masses-at-home to swallow all sorts of things that either violate the country’s constitution (magna carta, whichever), or UN declaration of Human Rights, or fall under plain propaganda to distort reality. (3) mentally preparing and patching up soldiers for battlefield operations. Not surprisingly, a psychologist signing up for PsyOps has to de-register from the list of accredited psychologists (at least, in South Africa they have to).

Unfortunately also not surprisingly, some of the computer science attendees of that meeting were not against hooking up with the DPSS for enhancing PsyOps; after all, PsyOps has project money to give away. Researchers and engineers hooking up with third parties—be it the military or industry that produces for the military—is a well-known thing (barely an issue) in computer science and engineering, as well as in other disciplines (though to a lesser extent), for there is plenty of money to burn, unlike government funding (in Italy, the Berlusconi government even has reduced the amount of project funds, and they were already at the bottom in the OECD %GDP raking).
Setting aside the US, of which hearsay says that at least 80% of computer science research is funded by the military or military-industrial complex, I could equally take an example in Europe, though not exemplary for all of the European Union member states (!!): some history [1], an analysis that shows that 31% of UK government funding goes to military type of projects [2], and, more recently, Nature spent another article on the topic of which the title says quite a lot, being “UK Universities in bed with military” [3] where it is not just the amount of collaboration but also the secrecy around it that raises several issues, and yet another, scholarly, paper that looks at the links between universities and the military with its focus on destruction [4]. Regarding the latter, it is not necessarily the case that the military focuses on destruction. This is partially due, or thanks to, the UN Peace Support Operations (PSOs), which include also peacekeeping and peacebuilding. In the case of the above-mentioned DPSS meeting, it is intended, however, to be the peace making and peace enforcing type of PSOs—“those that are actually war”, to quote organizer Leenen.

The workshop

Now, after the ‘massaging’ attempts earlier in the week, let us take a look at the IFIP workshop on war and not-peace, which, in fact, does not suit well with the TC9 description on computers and society—that what war destroys, among other things; hence, we would have a ‘TC9 on computers and anything as long as it is not society’.
Anyhow, the first stream in the morning was about socio-technical aspects, which was content-wise rather behind on available theory of PSOs. Noteworthy was Col. Xaba’s correction of a comment by Maj. Dr. Falkson’s talk about emotional factors in PSOs (including a slide on “African warrior role exposure” and differences between “war fighting” and PSO-er). Falkson showed a photo of blue-helmets in a crowded street, saying that this gives high stress to the soldier/peacekeeper because it is difficult to identify the enemy. Correctly so, Col. Xaba pointed out that in PSOs, and peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations in particular, there are no enemies from the viewpoint of a blue-helmet; at least: according to PSO doctrine there none. But, as it seemed, he was the only defence person who had a notion of PSO principles. Ben du Toit of the Defence Institute talked about cultural issues, without realizing he is well-embedded in one himself, being the military tunnel vision that states that resorting to violent ‘solutions’ is unavoidable. On the flipside, he is aware of ICT4Peace, analysed the notion of the “cultural smartie box”, and added the relatively new term ethnocomputing. Prof. von Solms, IFIP president, looked at critical information infrastructure (CII) management and tried to get the message across through scaremongering that CII failure can “cause” war. It might help in being the last straw, but the occasional temporal inconvenience of, say, denial of service attacks on government websites or ATM machines is unlikely going to cause a revolution on its own (I’m not asking you to disprove this assumption!). Simon Nare elaborated more on a “Computer Security Incident Response Team”, though upon probing the defence people as to their interest, Col. Coetzee was only “taking note of the information”. A buyers market?

Lt. Col. Theron demonstrated his joys regarding the chaos of operational battlespace visually, with battle photos, and moving and swishing figurines in the ppt presentation. The comment aside on the Information Warfare layers—being the communications grid, physical network, command and control, and doctrine—that doctrine is often copied from the US one, which therefore makes the non-US defence forces vulnerable [know thy enemy], was not lost, neither the sarcasm of the ‘alternative’ US OODA loop (Orientate, Overreact, Destroy, and Apologise). All in all, they seem to have a rather large information integration problem, which was discussed in more detail by Harris who is working on an “integrated development environment” (IDE) to hook up hardware and software across Joint Operations divisions. There is still a lot of work to do in that area. There is a basic version of this IDE as “command and control environment” already, which a gullible CSIR systems engineer, Venter, would like to test during “big events”, such as the FIFA Worldcup, to be held in South Africa in 2010—after all, a world cup is just like war and one surely would need to “have a 3-block war approach”, according to Venter. He even foresaw soldiers patrolling and interacting with fans, hooligans, and more of those terror and crime suspects. So, at the end, I could not resist throwing in a few comments, by first asking if he actually realized he was trying to militarize a civilian event, upon which he drew a blank. He’s been indoctrinated effectively, I suppose. Arrogant Maj. Gen. (Ret) Dr. M. du Toit jumped in to try to lecture me in a condescending tone that the defence is only part of the whole command and control operation—uhh, not of the event management, cross-organizational coordination, and co-operation?! It may well be the case it is one of the 7 pillars—and hopefully they all did get the message that soldiers harassing soccer fans isn’t a good idea at all and, in fact, is asking for trouble—but my point was that the gullible systems engineer was brainwashed. His boss, Harris, also took a more nuanced position, in a civilised, humane way. Perhaps the “Maj. Gen. (Ret) Dr.” is the cause of insistence on unidirectional chat against a young, female, civilian researcher; either way, it does not make him suitable for non-WarDefence interactions and events.

Last, Naude and Voster had nice reflections on trying to define Information Warfare. They discussed the lack of a widely accepted definition and the “US and UK-dominated wikipedia definition of Information Warfare” that includes “…propaganda or disinformation…”, and, according to Naude, most of the Information Warfare material comes from the USA, whereas it is unknown what other countries are doing, if anything, other than copying the US; hence, the current wiki definition might as well be recursive, in that the definition and related material itself is disinformation. The fantastic “sense making” might as well be, as it effectively demands, as a minimum (!), that most, if not all, artificial intelligence problems have to be solved to get a “sense making environment” up and running.

As for a next time of an IFIP TC9 WG 9.4 workshop, to have the “…safeguarding of peace”-part of the workshop scope properly included, as well as to have more ‘entertainment’ during the workshop by inviting people with more diverse backgrounds, the organisers may want to consider sourcing people from, among others, ICT4peace for engineering aspects and the UN-mandated UPeace for peace education and research to provide a balance that, in theory, the defence forces ought to have provided already, given that “war fighting” is only one of the five pillars (in the South African constitution, at least). In addition, it would be a rather dubious ‘honour’ and legacy of the organisers and current IFIP president (Prof. Solms from South Africa—the first African IFIP president) to be the ones who took the lead in institutionalizing an “ICT uses in warfare” Work Group in IFIP. Last, given that IFIP events are, as far as I know, civilian events, there ought not be a perceived need to instruct the defence people[n2] that one of the organizers was the “commander in chief for the day”—who, if that was not clear enough already, was ‘overlooked’ by Col. Xaba as counting as a woman because “her dress was too straight”, i.e. not feminine and sexy enough; proper education—or should I say, indoctrination—conformant to the now supposedly multifunctional defence forces is an area were there is still plenty of work to do.

UPDATE (Aug 11, 2008): the proceedings and presentations etc of the workshop are online now, in case you wnat to have a look at it yourself.

Last, but not least

Clearly, the whole issue of responsibility—is the scientist who discovers x responsible, or the engineer that uses it in a malicious way, or the government that deploys it, or the masses that do not complain—and the ‘what do you want to do with your knowledge’ is not new at all, but after the fall of the Berlin wall it got pushed to behind the scenes, whilst quietly a growing amount of money for military research is being made available. Some people do stand up, even get organised in a collective of scientists for global responsibility, but, thus far and in the vast majority of cases, the siren of short-term research funding wins it over any moral obligation to use knowledge responsibly.
Should one reform the scientists, engineers, research funding policy, or wake up the masses? This ‘million dollar question’ is out for a long time already, but that does not mean one can stick one’s head in the sand and take blood-stained research money until there is a final solution. Of course, with that kind of research funding in your pocket, you could say “In research, I don’t do politics and I don’t take sides…”, but that just means you are indifferent who gets harassed, bugged, occupied, tortured, and killed more efficiently; hence, by the same logic—despite how implausible it might seem now—it might just be used against you or your loved ones some day, too, so you can swallow the bitter pill of reaping what you sow.
Or you can take the other pill, and use your knowledge constructively to, say, use computers for benefit the environment, facilitate biosciences to understand nature, for stability of society—of an open society—or at least for the post-war reconstruction efforts to clean up the disasters that warmongers leave behind and contribute to planting the seeds for a, or nurturing a budding, stable society to achieve positive peace.

[1] book review of “Surviving the Swastika; Scientific Research in Nazi Germany” by Kristie Macrakis. NY: Oxford University Press, 1993. 280 pages.
[2] Ball, Philip. (2005). Science lobby urges UK to divert funds from military fields. Nature, 433: 184.
[3] Brumfiel, Geoff. (2008). UK Universities in bed with military. Nature, 453: 967.
[4] Chris Langley. (2008). Universities, the military and the means of destruction in the United Kingdom. The Economics of Peace and Security Journal, 3(1): 49-55.
[5] Forrest, Drew. (2008). The nature of greatness. Mail & Guardian, 24(29): 14.

———-

note1: To give an example of antique, early days PsyOps experiments: Nelson Mandela was “swinging a pick in a lime quarry, half-blinded by the glare”, for no purpose whatsoever, each day, for 13 years in a row, in an attempt to crush the morale of political prisoners [5]. Those things are calculable and can be simply demonstrated by physical damage to the eyes, unlike, say, humiliation, severe sleep deprivation (which distorts the sense of what’s real and what not and make you go crazy), and the like.

note2: Once a soldier always a soldier, 24/7, regardless if s/he participates in non-military events?