“We are all perpetuators, we are all victims”

– human rights advocate in Liberia, 2009 workshop.

As I prepare to leave for Afghanistan and begin to focus my attention on a part of the world I know little to nothing about, I have been reviewing literature about education in post conflict reconstruction (which is not what I’ll be doing, but what I’m interested in researching while I teach at AUAF). Over my morning coffee, I found an article on BBC that discusses the issue of memory and education in reconstruction and peaceful transitions. The article highlights a problem of reconstruction: How much do you want your children to know about what happened? Do you want them to see the bloody images? Do you want them to hate and/or fear the people you and your parents hated and/ or feared? Do you want them to know about it at all? And then how best do you ensure that the next generation learns from the previous and doesn’t make the same mistakes?

As a bright eyed grad student, I interned in Liberia at a progressive organization, Development Education Network- Liberia (see old posts). There the facilitators ran workshops that taught managerial skills, gender awareness, teacher training, law, and human rights to participants from civil society throughout Liberia. These facilitators were remarkable and taught me a great deal about reconstruction, about memory, and about loss. They approached their workshops knowing that the participants (as well as the facilitators) played different roles during the Liberian civil war, sometimes they were guilty of hurting others, sometimes they were hurt by others. The fact is, everyone in those workshops lost someone and lost a part of who they were because of the war. So facilitators encouraged them to meet somewhere in the middle to work on reconstruction and to acknowledge their shared history.

Yet the Liberian example that I saw is not the standard. The concept of rewriting history to change how we remember and what we remember isn’t new. The Armenian genocide was at one time all but forgotten (at least in the US), the genocide of Native Americans during US colonization was whitewashed to be a friendly handshake and a couple of accidentally infected blankets. Hell, we still celebrate Columbus Day as if Christopher Columbus was some kind of hero, despite eyewitness testimony to the contrary (and as an Italian American, I recognize that he holds cultural importance to some).

Now, moving into one of the longest ongoing active conflicts in the world, I’m left to scratch my head at the righteousness reflected in the BBC article around the editing of history by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education. I don’t agree with completely erasing the messy parts of history, but I’m not surprised by it. Also, I’m not sure DEN-L’s practice of reconciliation can cross international borders as each war becomes unique to the people affected by it. But I do know that an acknowledgement of general wrongdoing can lead to forgiveness at the individual level, whether or not it translates societally.

Best practices in education and memory after conflict? I don’t know yet, but I’ll let you know as I find out what others have to teach me.

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