For many weeks I have been pondering the first target of our Peace Intention Experiment. Although Iraq is foremost in the minds of the citizens of the US and even the UK, every continent has areas torn by war or heavy violence.
In order to get robust experimental results, I was interested in choosing an area that the West was NOT focused on. Many areas of violence around the world are already the subject of prayer groups and intention; if we were to focus on one of them, it would be more difficult to demonstrate scientifically that the Peace Intention Experiment had a significant effect in lowering violence.
But one issue was foremost in making my final selection: it had to be an area where accurate daily records of violence had been kept for at least two years. It also had to be an area where violence and war-related deaths were being tracked virtually in ‘real time’ so we wouldn’t have to wait for months to find out if our week of intention had an effect.
My team of scientists will be carrying out a time analysis of the data. To do this, they will examine the two years of past data and from that model their prediction of what will happen in the week of our intention and the month afterward. We’ll then compare our predicted levels with the actual levels of violence. If the actual levels are significantly lower, it will suggest that our intentions for peace had an effect.
Finding data this detailed and up to date proved to be an enormous challenge. For weeks I contacted conflict resolution and peace organizations around the planet: The Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland; the Human Security Report Project at Simon Fraser University’s School for International Studies at Vancouver, Washington; the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, to name just a few. Many organizations like these had collected data, but it wasn’t being collected anymore. Or it wasn’t particularly up to date.
What I apparently needed to look for was an Early Warning System – an organization gathering real time data on murder and violent crimes as a means of letting governments and other bodies know that conflict was threatening to disrupt in a particular area. My trail of inquiry eventually led me to the Swiss Peace Foundation.
They seemed perfect with the perfect worldwide database, until I discovered that they’d lost their funding in the middle of this year.
Calling Jack Bauer
I then heard about the National Counterterrorist Center – a real live, ’24-style’ counterterrorist unit, which exists within the US State department. They have a Worldwide Incidents Tracking System, which tracks terrorist activity and terrorist-related deaths everywhere on the planet. I thought I’d hit paydirt. It was just what I needed.
Nevertheless, when I went onto the WITS, I found that the listings were only provided as recently March 2008. Nevertheless, I thought that getting accurate stats would simply be a matter of contacting them – until I tried to get through to them. There was no phone number for the NCC on their website and no phone number in directory assistance.
I then phoned the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence and after three tries, got hold of a number of the NCC. The NCC apparently wasn’t interested in dealing with the public.
Although the person answering that telephone number announced himself merely as ‘Customer Service’, he guardedly admitted I’d got hold of the right department. When I was finally put through to the WITS, I got hold of a receptionist with attitude, who first asked my full name, address and telephone number before firmly informing me that no one in their department would speak with me but her, and, no, I couldn’t have any more recent data than was on the website.
I’d spent weeks digging and not only was I no closer to finding a source of good data, but I was probably now on a State Department hotlist somewhere for my interest in daily worldwide terrorist activity.
I began calling researchers on all these organizations and a long list of others, until I located a few other Early Warning systems for a number of less likely targets (I’m not going to tell you where because I don’t want you to start thinking about the target yet). Suffice it to say that in certain parts of the world, even cattle rustling is being tracked on a daily basis.
This latest search led me to what appeared to be the perfect foundation keeping track of daily incidents within its country, although there was no contact details for it on the website.
Eventually, after more exhaustive research, I came up with the student who’d been the program manager of the early warning system. It so happened that he’d attended a master’s course in America, and so his email address was on the web. Eventually I discovered it, and when I contacted him, he gave me the contact details of the head of the foundation — a prominent promoter of peace in his country, who turned out to be fascinated by our experiment and very interested in helping. It just so happens that his organization is carrying out a candle-lighting peace initiative which begins on September 21 – the very day our week of intention ends.
Some paths, however divergent, are eventually meant to converge.
The Chosen Target
I’m delighted to say that after weeks and weeks of calling, writing, pleading and digging through every possible Early Warning System, worldwide terrorist tracking system and government ‘incident’ count, I’ve finally located the very perfect target. This part of the world has been suffering from heavy violence and civil war for a number of decades. Nevertheless, a wonderful organization has blossomed in this terrible war-torn area and not only promoted peace, but also tracked every single act of violence of a number of years. They also have a system that tracks incidents immediately after they occur. The head of this organization is a well-known advocate for peace, with huge stature.
But here’s the best part of all. It so happens that they have a special peace campaign that they are initiating on September 21 with a special ceremony, with a special symbol of peace everyone can display in their homes. I’m not going to tell you anymore about this initiative until we begin our first Peace Intention Experiment because I don’t want to give away the target (remember: I don’t want you to think about it beforehand). But we not only have a week of intention; we also have a ceremony we can participate in to help this country and this worthwhile campaign. I will reveal all when the experiment starts.
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