In the late 1980s, during the last days of the Lebanese civil war, one of the major actors in the sectarian conflict experienced a radical change of heart.
Assaad Chaftari, once a high-ranking intelligence official in a feared Christian militia, recently recalled his first meetings with the international group now known as Initiatives of Change. “They started asking me some very peculiar questions,” he said, “like ‘You want to change others and make them think like you and look like you, but are you ready to change within first?’”
His story of transformation was shared during last month’s “Militants to Peacemakers” forum, hosted by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. The online event, also featuring veterans from the 1990s Bosnian civil war, kicked off the Weatherhead’s new Research Cluster on Identity Politics, a roughly three-year initiative designed to further understanding of ethnic and religious violence while advancing solutions. The group’s next program, on Northern Ireland, is scheduled for Wednesday.
“Research clusters, by definition, are designed to generate public goods and to stimulate novel thinking about important issues,” explained Weatherhead Director Melani Cammett, who is also the Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs in the Department of Government. Under Cammett’s leadership, the cluster will unite academics in exploring everything from socioeconomic drivers to politicians who fire up tensions for their own benefit.
“I view this cluster as addressing conflict from multiple angles,” Cammett said, “from the micro-level approach to improving intergroup relations all the way up to national and international arenas where you have negotiated settlements, institutional arrangements, and incentives to build more conciliatory politics.”