Retribution or Reconciliation?

From Revenge to Forgiveness: Strengthening Durable Peace in Post-Conflict Societies, Principal Investigator, 2020-2023


Photo by Levi Clancy on Unsplash

Civil conflicts gravely damage the state’s legitimacy. Institutions are rendered incapable of providing security; social trust among its citizenry diminishes; and non-state actors step in to fill the vacuum of power. Following conflict, the state needs to re-establish itself as the legitimate arbiter of processes aimed at bringing former rebel collaborators to justice. Unless it carefully considers subnational variation in the drivers of forgiveness and reconciliation with rebel collaborators, the state may generate new grievances among some communities, increasing the chances of rebel recidivism or the outbreak of new conflict. This project develops and tests a novel framework integrating political science theories of legitimacy with psychological theories of forgiveness, feelings of (in)justice and desire for revenge. To test this framework, we conduct in-depth interviews, hold focus groups and implement three large-scale surveys with embedded experiments (N=3,600) in Iraq, a country that has endured a series of civil conflicts culminating in the recent confrontation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This project employs innovative tools to identify both the subnational drivers of violent resentment towards the state and the drivers of reconciliation. It provides policymakers with the information necessary to design successful strategies for reconciliation, re-establishment of state legitimacy, and lasting peace. Principal Investigator with participating researchers Michael Bang Petersen and Kristin Fabbe. Funded by Risksbanken Jubileumsfond and the Folke Bernadotte Academy (Swedish government agency for Peace, Security, and Development) (3.57 million SEK/~412,000 USD).

Attitudes Toward Islamic State Returnees to Europe, 2020-2021

Most of the thousands of European citizens who traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) now seek repatriation and reintegration into their home communities. This project seeks to understand the conditions under which Europeans view punishment of IS collaborators as fair. Can state-imposed punishments or rehabilitative measures contribute to reconciliation? Or should such transgressions result in the loss of citizenship for these Europeans, as some policymakers are promoting? I propose to employ conjoint experiments embedded within a survey to identify drivers of desire for retribution or reconciliation across different sectors of the population (e.g., migrants, religion). These experiments will also allow us to test the effects of misalignments between punishments that Swedes see as just and those that the state may implement on willingness to forgive criminals. This project will provide policymakers with information needed to create a safe and inclusive Swedish society. With Peter Esaiasson. Funded by the Wilhelm & Martina Lundgrens Vetenskapsfond (66,000 SEK/~7,800 USD).