Interview with Saad Ali Saad, AC4 Fellow, 2013 Cohort
Saad Ali Saad, M.S., is a graduate of Columbia University’s Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program. He is also an alumni of the AC4 Graduate Fellowship Program, 2013 Cohort. One project Saad currently works on is the AC4 initiative for Constructive Engagement in the Arab World, particularly on the Arabic version of the Handbook on Conflict Resolution.
What life experiences or motivations led you into the field of conflict resolution?
I was born and lived in a conflict region for almost my entire life. I lived in southern Lebanon for 11 years. A proxy of the Israeli army, known as the South Lebanese Army, controlled this area. My family had to move because of the conflict that was happening. At one point, my father got word that my brother was supposed to get recruited into the South Lebanese Army, so we decided that it was time to move; we emigrated from Lebanon to the U.S. In this sense, conflict has been a part of all my life, shaping who I am.
After I moved to the States, I was interested in trying to make sense of what happened and why we moved. I began to study Political Science in Middle Eastern Affairs at the University of Michigan. I became more and more interested in history, the Middle East, and conflict. With my life experience and academic experience from undergrad, I ended up here at Columbia studying conflict resolution.
How has your studies and work in conflict resolution changed your understanding of the conflict in Lebanon?
My understanding continues to evolve based on the projects I am involved in or, more recently, based on getting time to reflect on everything I’ve learned from the classroom and experiences I had as a student. Also, going back to the region and meeting people from Lebanon, seeing how they speak about current events or how they deal with these dynamics continues to inform me. Most recently, it has been meeting people who’ve emigrated from Syria, and learning about their experiences in that conflict. These experiences gives me a more nuanced and solid understanding of how people view conflicts, and then what my role can be as a practitioner.
What is the focus of your work with the Arabic translation of the Handbook on Conflict Resolution and the initiative around that?
Basically, the aim of the handbook is to make a resource on conflict resolution available in Arabic, because there’s a huge demand and a need for it. Additionally, we’re trying to organize around this concept of conflict resolution in the Arab world, both here in the states and in the region. We view this as an opportunity to grow and strengthen the field. For the last few months we have been connecting with people who’ve been requesting the handbook, learning more about what they do and exploring opportunities of collaboration. We are seeking funding now to continue this work in the region.
Do you think there are significant differences between how people approach the study of conflict in the MENA region versus in the West, in the United States?
Utilizing culture as a framework for understanding conflict is crucial. The way people understand the conflict affects how they deal with it. Understanding culture is first and foremost; then, in turn, trying to make sense of what that conflict is, and why people react and respond the way they do.
For example, in the case of Lebanon, you not only have to understand the culture of how people interact there, but also, how the culture is influenced by the history. In Lebanon there’s a history of colonialism, and there’s a history of imperialism, and that’s impacted how people deal with the conflict and why people are reacting the way they are. The synthesis and interplay between culture and history, even history as far back as 100 and 150 years, is a crucial aspect to understanding and being able to contribute constructively.
Additionally, I think globally we need to expand our traditional views on what conflict resolution means and what that process looks like. Often, we think of conflict resolution strictly as a negotiation or mediation. In the region, there’s a lot going on that’s related to resolving conflicts, yet they may not be defined or labeled that way. There are a good deal of development initiatives (programs for literacy, gender issues, etc.) related to addressing issues of conflict, but they are not directly conflict resolution processes, per se.