Four of the articles in this issue, and the book review, are about countering terrorism in seven countries spread over a wide part of our continent, just north of the equator. Referring to the equator reminded me of the story of a schoolboy who described it as an imaginary lion running around the middle of the earth. And this understandable joke prompted me to imagine a metaphorical lion causing havoc in country after country. One may even apply this metaphor in a dual sense: to the mayhem and anarchy caused by extremists, and to the daunting robustness that may be required from peacemakers in some situations.
These counter-terrorism papers obviously contain narratives with names and details which readers from other countries may find boring. But the stories pave the way to the findings and recommendations, some of which may be context-specific, while others are definitely generalisable. In the article on theory building, this distinction is discussed, and the development of both specific and general theory is propagated. In all the articles, therefore, we may be looking for valuable principles and insights, with which we may enrich our expertise. An insight, that in my opinion deserves special emphasis, may at many places be read between the lines, but is specifically stated on the last page of the first article: ‘The essence of conflict is an opposition of minds. The arena of conflict is the mental field’. In this context, the author also refers to the ‘disputants’ wills’.
With regard to this mindset issue, I would like to share my own experience in two very recent conferences. In my own presentations, I emphasised, among other things, the crucial importance of actually and effectively implementing the solutions, resolutions, recommendations and agreements reached. Best practices have to be put into action, and best theories into operation. I also focused on the reality, however, that the putting into practice often gets no further than the rhetoric of lip-service or the impressiveness of signatures on an agreement. And I elaborated on the typical cause of this breakdown in a process towards peace: stubborn unwillingness. I referred to researched cases of unwilling groups and unwilling individuals. Such people apparently have a mindset of unwillingness to listen and talk, to solve problems and agree, and to reconcile and coexist.
But then, another presenter went a step further and ventured to say something about exploring the nexus between mental health and reconciliation. I immediately realised that such research will probably be a challenging undertaking, but that if signs of a connection are indeed found, a thought-provoking message could be spread. Something as, for instance: Don’t those who have an anti-reconciliation disposition perhaps have a deficiency in their mental health? I further realised, with amazement, that this is exactly what our Afrikaans term for ‘common-sense’ can imply. A direct translation of ‘common-sense’ would have been ‘gewone begrip’ (ordinary understanding) or ‘alledaagse begrip’ (everyday understanding), but the more semantic rendering which we use almost without exception, is ‘gesonde verstand’ (healthy mind) as noun, and ‘gesonde-verstand-’ (healthy minded) as attributive adjective. So, when in a conflict situation we would say, ‘To talk things out is a common-sensical method’, the Afrikaans version would be, ‘Om dinge uit te praat, is ’n gesonde-verstand-metode’ (a healthy minded method).
The moral of this little lesson about translation (which you may of course forget) is that all the common-sensical ways of dealing with conflict – such as talking and listening things out, mutually understanding each other, cooperating to solve the problem(s) concerned, and reconciling if possible – may probably be regarded as signs of sound mental health. And that those who shrink away from the common-sensical methods might be bordering on the realm of mental ill-health – to put it mildly.
When I second the risky suggestion of my fellow-presenter at the conference, I am not forgetting the terrorism context wherein my first paragraph began. In fact, precisely in such a context, I can quote a sentence from the last article in this issue: ‘Confronting a well-known enemy with a restorative approach might cause the aggrieved party to choose the path of dialogue and reconciliation’. And the first article makes a case for ‘non- partisan mediation’. Moreover, according to a recent enquiry, we may expect an article on ‘mediating the emerging threat of terrorism’ early next year. After all, radical changes of mindset may be rare, but they do occur. They may also occur in the realm of fundamentalism.
Nevertheless, as duly discussed in the second and third articles, there are also cases – under ‘human’ beings – where the unwillingness seems to be so unassailable and unbearable that robust peacemaking may be the only healthy-minded route.