May 3, 2019

GU-Q Students Study Peace Through Travel to Post-Conflict Zones

The Zones of Conflict, Zones of Peace (ZCZP) program supports annual courses at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) that enable students to study and travel to zones of ethnic, political, religious, and social conflict.

GU-Q students pose in between meetings with local leaders and activists in Basque Country
GU-Q students pose in between meetings with local leaders and activists in Basque Country

Started in 2007, the program aims to help students better understand both the causes of conflict and the difficult process of reconciliation. Past trips have included visits to Cambodia, Israel-Palestine, and Poland.

ZCZP’s most recent trip took students to the Basque Country, an autonomous community in Spain, over their spring break to study the emergence and evolution of Basque nationalist political violence.

“The objective was to offer students the two 'sides' of the story, not as a way of justifying any or both of them, but as a way of understanding the challenge of peace-building that lies ahead for Basque society,” said government professor and course instructor Sonia Alonso Sáenz de Oger.

‘Real People with Real Stories’

The travel component of ZCZP not only complements the theoretical study of the course, but also brings the material to life, says Naila Sherman, director of student life at GU-Q.

“It brings great depth to their studies,” Sherman said. “I think the real value of these classes and trips is the way in which they bridge theory and practice, and showing students that these are real people with real stories, and what they study actually matters outside of the classroom in the world.”

“This travel component of the course is essential to our learning process,” said Mohammed Abu Hawash (SFS’19), a student in ZCZP’s spring 2019 course. “We meet activists, politicians, and victims who embody the conflict and its history, as well as the reconciliation process. Their testimonies bring everything home.”

GU-Q students and their professor during a site visit in Basque Country
GU-Q students and their professor during a site visit in Basque Country

Peace in the Basque Country

The recent trip to the Basque Country examined the Spain–Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) conflict, an armed political conflict from 1959 to 2011, and the peace-building strategies to deal with the historical memory of violence.

“To meet the victims and politicians who endured the conflict gave us new, more emotional, and in-depth insight into what navigating a conflict looks like and how difficult, but worthwhile peace in a society is,” Ayesha Iqbal (SFS'22) said. 

Alonso Sáenz de Oger challenged her students to apply their experience in the Basque Country to questions about the nature of conflict and possibilities for reconciliation.

“At the end of the course I have encouraged students to engage in a normative reflection about the use of violence for achieving political goals, its consequences over whole societies, and the prospects for peace in post-conflict situations,” said Alonso Sáenz de Oger.

Jesuit Values in Action

Students in the spring course originate from Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, Malaysia, Qatar, Syria, France, Algeria, Taiwan, Pakistan, India, Palestine, Somalia, and the United States, reflecting the diversity of Georgetown’s GU-Q campus. 

“All of the people we met were fascinated by our diversity, which added to the discussions both in class and on the trip,” said Salma Hassan (SFS’20). 

Alonso Sáenz de Oger highlighted the group’s coordinated activities with the Institute of Applied Ethics of the University of Deusto, a Jesuit university. Students were encouraged to reflect about the normative and ethical challenges of building peace in a society broken by violence.

“This is a learning experience that neither the students nor myself will ever forget,” Alonso Sáenz de Oger said. 

“This aligns with Georgetown's objectives of providing students with formative experiences through which they can learn Jesuit values.” 

Ultimately, students found the course not only academically fulfilling, but also significant to their personal growth and pursuit of making a difference in the world.

“It was honestly the most life-changing experience for me and the highlight of my freshman year,” Iqbal said of the program. “The course, though demanding, challenged me in the best way, and I believe it has contributed a lot to my growth as a novice researcher, student, and a global citizen aspiring for a peaceful world.”

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