Episode 006- Tom Hill

Peacebuilding in Iraq & Creating NYU’s Peacebuilding Program

Episode Summary

How do you create the conditions for peacefulness in a place like Iraq that has been in such intense, destructive conflict for so long? How do you use yourself as an outsider to support people on the ground who wish to create a different kind of future for their children? And how do you go about setting up academic programs, in war-torn countries or peaceful ones, that rigorously train students in the best methods for creating the conditions for peacefulness?

Thomas Hill speaks to all of these questions on this episode of The Peacebuilding Podcast: Bridging the Divide. With his mellifluous voice (that this podcaster believes should be put to use on radio), Tom talks about his near singular focus on Iraq over 16 years and 35 trips.

Tom, aka Dr. Hill, is a clinical associate professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University’s School of Professional Studies, where he is the Director of the Initiative for Peacebuilding through Education. He is a peacebuilding practitioner, researcher and has developed a series of inter-related projects focused on increasing levels of peacefulness in Iraq.

Tom talks about his journey into the peacebuilding field through journalism as well as his creation of NYU’s Peacebuilding concentration. He reflects on the changing perceptions about the Peacebuilding field from those who still think it’s a 1960’s holdout, to those who now accept it as becoming mainstream e.g. the U.S. State Department. He describes why students come to the NYU program, what they learn, and what they do when they leave.

Most importantly, Tom talks in great detail about the his work in Iraq over the last 16 years and how he and Iraqi partners have gradually created academic but activist conflict resolution centers that are ground zero for those who are done with the destruction around them, and 100% committed to finding a different path.

With poignant clarity, he shares his first moments in Iraq in 2003, enjoying beautiful food and wonderful Iraqi hospitality in a home with a kalashnikov leaning against every window, dark moments over the years turning into brighter ones, the serendipity of the worst events like ISIL taking over Mosul being the impetus for the University of Mosul to consider development of a program in peace studies.

In keeping with the theme of those interviewed on The Peacebuilding Podcast, Tom talks about the structural or systemic changes that are necessary, in Iraq, the United States and elsewhere, for peacefulness to really take hold. He gives listeners his top three insights and learnings from the work in Iraq, his favorite book on building peace, and the tool or technique from Bill Ury that he has found most useful overall.

If you are someone who is tired of our public conversation that is dominated by destructive, violent conflict and are thinking about how peace really can be built, listen to this creative, upbeat voice and become inspired about lessons you can immediately put to work!

Show Notes

* Susan hosting Tom Hill, a peace building practitioner with over fifteen years of experience focusing on Iraq. Tom also teaches at NYU, his courses centering on conflict resolution and global affairs.

* Tom has spearheaded NYU’s peace-building program.

* How did you get the ball rolling for the peace-building program at NYU?

* Tom began teaching and received positive reactions from students—many of whom appreciated a less-conventional approach to conflict resolution.

* Most students maintained little more than a garden-variety understanding of conflict resolution.

* Tom wants students to appreciate both the academic, and the professional sides of conflict resolution.

* It is imperative to avoid templates. That is to say that what may work under a particular set of circumstances will not necessarily work under another set—no matter how similar. Mediators must be strategic and flexible in their approach to each case.

* Tom’s definition of peace building is: any human activity that can lead to higher levels of peacefulness on any number of scales.

* Effective peace building necessitates a multidisciplinary approach.

* Who comes to the program?

* People who want to make a positive difference—a constructive and rigorous crowd.

* Program does well to blend the practical with the theoretical.

* Many students work with NGO’s, the UN, and various governments after graduation.

* What sort of vision should peace builders have?

* Staying task-oriented while slowly working towards a positive peace.

* Working with smaller units of work translates into movement within the larger systems.

* What planted seeds for you Tom?

* Initially, Tom wanted to be a sports journalist.

* Was not satisfied with sports writing.

* Tom switched to conflict resolution after a decade long career in journalism.

* Center for International Conflict Resolution exploded Tom’s view of the possibilities of peace building (https://sipa.columbia.edu).

* Took an opportunity in 1999 to work on mediation program with Kurdish politicians.

* Duhok, a forty-five minute ride from Mosul.

* Barzan Omar wanted to set up conflict resolution program at local university.

* Duhok University President called Tom to implement program.

* In 2003, amidst heavy political imbalances, Tom and his team set out for Duhok.

* Tom’s introduction to Iraq included a lovely prepared lunch and a houseful of automatic firearms.

* Peace-building curriculum was censored by university administration.

* Barzan was killed in 2004 while driving through Mosul—his death representing a huge loss within the peace building community.

* Program linked all three universities in the region—a consortium that would then work with Tom and his team.

* Goals of the program: to hold seminars, and to interact with domestic and foreign professionals and organizations.

* In 2008 Duhok University received support to set up masters programs in conflict resolution.

* The center continues to grow today.

* Community Peace Education is an ongoing program that works with roughly four thousand Duhok locals.

* The programs at Dahuk are proving wildly successful; Duhok University has now fully institutionalized conflict resolution.

* Important to remember that this type of work has long gestation periods.

* Seemingly bad moments can lead to constructive outcomes, and vice versa.

* Why are students interested in the program?

* There is a level of responsibility among youth today that was absent when Tom first visited Duhok and Mosul.

* The structural issues within Iraq are in fact very similar to our own issues in the US.

* Higher education systems in both countries yield unhealthy stratification among our young generations.

* Time and patience are essential in raising a successful program.

* You must have genuine relationships with partners.

* Anything is possible, barring the limits of human ability.

* Be humble.

* Be weary of a strong belief in yourself; we must foremost be listeners.

* We ought to acknowledge the difference between our culture and another; however, this should not dictate, nor limit our interactions with that country.

Notes by Susan Coleman – Host The Peacebuilding Podcast

"The best way to predict the future is to create it".

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