talking to enemies

there is a certain challenge to working on military merging processes. for starters, the military is a sensitive matter in any nation. suspicions are high to look for spies and anyone who might use information against themselves. because, despite europe believing that we as a human kind have moved passed the ‘primitive’ instinctive power that is based on fists and sticks and guns to a time of human rights and values and morals, even in europe one only has to ask about the size of their fists and sticks and guns to realize their rhethoric does not fit their actions and perceptions. in the middle east, and other areas of the world, at least no one denies the fact that the forces are a vital part in personal and societal survival. it is therefore the most natural thing for them to be protective about information. the understanding of that fact as a researcher helps in chosing the most careful approach to the forces. the second and most important step following this first understanding is the building of trust.

the currency of trust
trust can not be put in numbers. there is no recipe to achieve it. trust is a matter of sensitivity to different characters, honesty in the intention, and humbleness in the approach.
i personally see it as my own honor to protect those who i approach. this is not just about journalistic morals of protecting ones sources; to me this is bigger than a job description. trust is a two way street. and since i am the one approaching them, asking them to trust me, it is up to me more than them to keep up my end of the bargain. and with the honest intention in my heart to truly understand the situation from their perspective and maybe, through the abilities of academic thought i have attained over the years, be able to find a new angle and maybe even a solution, i approach the delicate issue of building trust on a delicate topic like the armed forces. and in that effort, the protection of those who i ask to trust me for the pleasure of my own research and understanding is of the utmost importance.

yet among the trust building and the imperative of protecting those i speak with, i constantly balance on the edge of the sword. it is both the great risk and the excitement that comes with the job on top of the intellectual pleasure. the sword is my bridge between the different parties involved in the merging process.
no matter how careful i am; no matter how honest i mean it not to be interested in taking sides or in playing one against the other, eventually i will end up talking to enemies.
and this is where the balancing act begins. different from approaching one state’s military, politically divided forces, guerilla, and militias have their different groupings and with each one the trust building effort is its own task and experience. beyond that, however, a lot of the groups are interlinked in a manner that the increase of trust with the one group diametrically decreases the trust with the other.

examples of experience – how the balancing act works in practice
while in kurdistan in 2014 and ever since, for example, this need to balance the different sides, affected the way i traveled, the amount i chose to talk to people on different sides, and the company i chose to take research journeys with. to speak honestly, it is very tiring and probably the hardest part of the job to make people on the one side believe that just because you talk to people on the other side or spend some time there, you do not necessarily ‘take their side’ or buy into their ideology. and this goes both ways. but the idea of academic neutrality, or the ‘elfenbeinturm‘ as we call it in german referring to the detachment of any sides that an academic takes on by viewing the entire field from above rather than simply from one angle, is unknown to this part of the world (for a good reason as also the elfenbeinturm idea has been raped front- side- and backwards by european politicians and so called academics that hid their own agenda behind big moral values and loud proclamations of interest for the nations). it is therefore both a tiring and a delicate task to stay in the balance with all sides (consider that these sides are also constantly in flux and changing) to build the trust necessary for any kind of actual in-depth work of analysis. in talking with enemies, to me there is no recipe except the constant awareness of ones own work’s fragility… to be continued …

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