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After Growing Up In Conflict, This Acclaimed Mediator Prefers To Find Common Ground

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Krystina Martinez/KERA News
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Mohamd Keshavjee lectures on alternative dispute resolution and Islamic law at The Institute of Ismaili Studies in London.

Mohamed Keshavjee knows a thing or two about conflict. The internationally-acclaimed mediator grew up as an Indian Muslim in South Africa during apartheid, and his family was close with Mahatma Gandhi.

Keshavjee talked about last year’s controversy over Islamic mediation in North Texas, the role his family played in fighting apartheid, and why mediation tends to be more successful than litigation.

Interview Highlights: Mohamed Keshavjee...

…On how alternative dispute resolution works:

“When two people have an argument, conventionally, people will say ‘I’ll see you in court, my attorney will sort you out. Alternative dispute resolution is an alternative way of resolving conflict. Instead of two people running to their lawyers and suing each other, they agree to a common mediator. The mediator brings them together to construct their own negotiated settlement. There’s proof empirically that settlements arrive at by themselves have a greater chance of self-enforcement, rather than a court-enforced settlement.”

…On last year’s controversy over Islamic mediation at a North Texas mosque:

“[In that type of mediation], we look at the principles of the faith – compassion, support, care, the best interest of the children – always working within the public laws of the country in which we operate.

I think there needs to be a dialogue again. We do have a lot of anger. Every time there’s a problem, the anger level is high, the trust level is low. That is not faith-inspired. We are all humans, we feel pain when we see difficulties in our own relations, but I think the mediator tries to bring the people back to sanity.”

…On growing up in South Africa during apartheid:

“Your color determined your humanness. If you were white, you were on top of the pile. You got all the privileges. If you were brown, you got less privileges and if you were black, you were at the bottom of the pile. Everyone got privileges according to the color of their skin, but as time went on it, it was very much white versus non-whites.”

…On the growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. and Europe:

“I think we have to come to grips with one reality: in a globalized world, we’re all connected. We are neighbors, whether we like it or not. It does become a little painful when people become myopic about this, but I’ve made the point that the families of today are biracial, binational, bi-religious, bicultural, bilingual. Society’s becoming very mixed, and I think if we can tap the good that people bring, we can find a lot of potential that can be tapped in.”     

Mohamed Keshavjee is a South African attorney. He’s the recent recipient of the Ghandi King Ikeda Award for Peace from Morehouse College in Atlanta. 

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and KERANews.org. She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter is KERA's vice president of news. He oversees news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News has earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.