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The Coexistence Spectrum
Program Officer for Outreach and Communication, The Coexistence Initiative
Program Officer for Dialogue and Mainstreaming Coexistence, The Coexistence Initiative
A: Coexistence is a term that is used to describe a state where more than one group of people are living together and resolving their conflicts without resorting to violence. It is a very minimalist
statement because as you can tell it doesn't lend any weight to the quality of the relationship between the two groups. And because of that, coexistence can be seen as a spectrum where on the one hand you have what that definition gives us; two groups living together in a space without violence. It says absolutely nothing about whether or not the two groups are interdependent on each other or what their relationships are with each other.
On the other hand of the spectrum you have two groups living together without recourse to violence with stronger relationships. They may inter-marry. They may have political alliances and coalitions. They may be economically dependent on each other.
And the utility of coexistence becomes clear once you understand the spectrum because what it allows us to do as people who are building peace is to use it in situations where the far right meaning, and I don't mean that ideologically, but the integrated, what I have been calling social cohesion part of coexistence, can not be applicable. For example, right after the genocide in Rwanda it would be seriously problematic to go in with a peace building or social practice concept that promoted the solid inter-dependence because it doesn't reflect the reality that people have just experienced.
However, you can talk about coexistence at this other end where you are saying well what we need to do now is stop the violence. And in your work move the communities away from this very minimalist point to this very proactive point where they're embracing their diversity and they are respecting their differences. I think that is the strongest part of coexistence as a term. And why I think it should be used more often is because it does have this amazing flexibility that is very pragmatic. You know, there are a lot of people who have derogatory terms for people who promote peace because it, you know, in promoting peace you can be, you can some how miss the reality of conflict because you miss the fact that there is a harshness to it and that people just can't put aside their differences and get along. Coexistence gives us this wonderful progression.
As an organization we have located ourselves at the far end of the spectrum that says you know, we are not just for this cold, passive coexistence and we are not just for tolerance; we are promoting an active embrace of diversity.
Q: So you don't want Cyprus, you want Canada, maybe?
A: However, we recognize that this co-tolerance part of it does have a role to play because again in situations where you have had massive violence, you want people to get to this end of the spectrum but they are not going to get there immediately. It is a step by step process.