Libya Tribune

By Mustafa Abdulwahab Saqizly

Those of us who have seen the terrible cost of armed conflict first-hand understand all too well that talking is, in the end, the only way build lasting peace.

Nowhere is this truer today than in much of the Arab speaking world. That is why I am so delighted to introduce this translation of Jonathan Powell’s well respected book, Talking to Terrorists.

Jonathan Powell is renowned diplomat, negotiator and mediator, who writes with first-hand experience of engaging with terrorists to bring about sustainable and lasting peace.

The lessons he shares explain how dialogue has persuaded a number of contemporary armed groups around the world – all branded terrorists – to adopt peaceful means, discard violence and engage in the political process.

To us, this is more than hard-headed realism.

Talking, and arguing with those who differ from us – no matter how big our disagreements – is a fundamental part of our identity as Arabs and Muslims.

This was spelt out simply and clearly in the Quran and is the foundation of our rich culture, history and civilisation.

The Quran tells us how God almighty argued with the devil himself. It tells us of numerous conversations that took place between God’s messengers and the temporal rulers and tyrants they confronted, all of which were based on common-sense, logic and give-and-take.

These encounters were conducted face-to-face, in total transparency and honesty.

Early Islamic history tells of the most intriguing confrontation between Mohamed’s follower, Abdullah Ibn Abbas, and al-Khawarij, the first violet extremists in Islam.

When they rebelled against the fourth Caliph, Ali, Ibn Abbas undertook to meet a number of their staunchest leaders and engaged them in debate. The result was that many of them saw the error of their ways and changed sides.

The challenges we face today seem bewilderingly complex by comparison, but the spirit of Ibn Abbas is more important than ever.

Talking offers a chance to address the underlying forces which lead otherwise rational people down the path of violence and extremism, whether they are ideological, political, economic, social, or, even psychological.

This is the necessary springboard for designing the plans and programs we need to remedy the situation. Honest, sustained talking – debating in good faith – offers a way to remove the barriers and misunderstandings which exist, and to find practical solutions for building peace.

The convulsions which have gripped the Arab world since the Arab Spring leave us with little alternative but to begin an honest and genuine dialogue with sectors of our people who have turned to violence, and to persuade them to become part and parcel of the movement for positive change in the region.

We have to find constructive roles for our youth, rather than isolating them, and integrate them into society through practical programmes and plans.

We have to empower them, give them the opportunity to pursue their education and training, and provide them with economic opportunities through supporting small and medium-sized enterprise.

We have to engage them in civil society, leadership and political work programmes.

The tendency to fight extremism and violence by ostracising these groups and deploying repressive security measures that do no respect the law or human rights, has demonstrated its futility. It provides a ready justification to gain more recruits, and reinforces a cycle of violence.

It was in this spirit that the Libyan Programme for Reintegration and Development (LPRD) was established.

We understand that state-building is achieved by bringing together all citizens, rehabilitating them, enabling them to become the future protectors and builders of the country. We stand for the reintegration and rehabilitation of all former combatants and armed groups.

Our work provides beneficiaries with the support and assistance they need, through educational, economic and social empowerment programmes, and integration in the security sector, in order to become contributing citizens and to participate in the rebuilding of the State for which they fought.

Jonathan Powell visited Tripoli in the summer of 2014, in his capacity as the British Prime Minister’s special envoy to Libya. He was able to see first-hand some of the work we were doing, and I suggested that the lessons he had written about in his book should be made available and published in Arabic.

Arabic speaking readers need to be aware of the ideas, and techniques for debate, negotiation, mediation, and conflict resolution which have worked in other parts of the world. He thankfully obliged and the result is now in your hands.

We, at the LPRD, are pleased and confident that the book will be well-received and given the wide welcome it deserves merits. We are certain it will be effective and widen its impact in the Arab world.

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Mustafa Abdulwahab Saqizly – Chairman, Libyan Programme for Reintegration and Development (LPRD)

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Source: An intro to the Arabic translated book “Talking to Terrorists: How to end armed conflicts” by Jonathan Powell (translated by Ashur Shamis)

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