Peace needs practice

This post is taken from introductory and concluding remarks by QCEA’s head of peace programme Atiaf Alwazir made at our conference called Peace education: Evidence and opportunities held jointly with Quakers in Britain. More information on QCEA’s work on peace:

Given the state of the world, the endless creativity of violence we see, widespread injustice, police brutality, starvation, climate crisis, deaths at sea, and deepening inequalities, some people might believe it’s naive to think that peace education could help. But as as my colleague Laetitia Sédou says, “being a pacifist doesn’t mean being passive”.

We know that peace needs action, it needs practice, because violence and war; power and privilege have become ingrained and normalised in many societies and in our psyches. Too many of us, think that war and violence are inevitable because we are constantly bombarded with information telling us that it’s the only way. For example, the military-industrial-complex is testimony to our constant preparedness for an unspecified war. But while conflict is inevitable in human interaction, it’s bound to happen, violence isn’t.

In order to change the culture of violence, we need to change the narratives and the stories that we are told, and replace them with other stories as evidence that peace is possible. This require both outer and inner work, and that’s where the power of peace education lies. Peace education can help us remove the credibility and legitimacy of violence by showing alternative ways of conflict resolution and giving us the skills and knowledge to do that.

When we teach children critical thinking skills which will allow them to question the nature of power, we are promoting peace. When we teach radical empathy we’re promoting peace. When we teach environmental responsibility, we’re promoting peace. When we acknowledge wrongs, and take responsibility we begin a healing process.

Neither violence nor peace is reserved for one particular part of the world. They both exist everywhere. However, sometimes we tend to only look outward. We focus on violence that is being conducted abroad for example, and forget the one in our own back yard. We tend to focus on what is happening outside of our bodies, and forget our inner work.

For peace to be a reality, it can’t be either or. It’s not either working on peace abroad or at home, either working on disarmament or climate, either working on inner peace or structural violence, either working on racial justice or peacebuilding, it is about making links with all of these issues and embracing a holistic definition of peace that reminds us of how interconnected we are to the Earth and to each other.

We need to remember that violence is a child ducking from bombs, and violence is also found in the way we have developed our economies, the way we consume our goods, and in the structures that have been placed upon us impacting some of us more than others. Healing and peace can only begin with the acknowledgement of wrongs committed, and through solidarity across differences.

We also need to check-in with our bodies, and ask ourselves, how do we deal with conflict internally? Many of us simply avoid it, because we don’t know how to address it. Many of also us avoid talking to our children about important topics; even though it’s imperative that children are included in these conversations.

Four days ago, my five-year old daughter asked me, “Mama, what does slave mean?” I froze because I honestly thought that I had more time before I needed to tell her about the cruelty that can be found amongst humans. And for a moment I didn’t know what to say because its really hard to break these issues down in a kid-friendly way. But we must not avoid these topics because of their difficulty, instead, we need the skills and knowledge available in peace education to know how and when to address these issues.

Opportunity is the last thing we think of when we are in crisis, but opportunities are all around us. Our fears can limit us from seeing them, but we have to overcome that, and we have to not only believe that peace is possible, but to also remember that in fact it is our responsibility to dream because imagining a better world allows us to actively participate in creating it.

We must share evidence and stories of how people are actively and successfully promoting peace all over the world. Peace is not a strange or naive concept. Peace is all around us and within us, in our bodies and in nature. And peace education can help us unlock that.

Like so many people, I’ve been exposed to an array of violence. My grandfather and aunt were killed, my father was wrongfully imprisoned, I witnessed deaths of peaceful protesters, experienced racial profiling and sexual harassment, heard bombs exploding and drones hovering in the sky. And yet despite all of that, I still believe that peace is within reach. Why? Because I’ve seen extraordinary courageous and heroic actions by people in the darkest of times.

As a mother of two, I sincerely hope that my children will use the evidence we have of peace and be able to imagine a world without violence. Because the most revolutionary thing we can do in dark times, is to counter helplessness by imagining another future and believing that peace is in fact a possibility.

As migrant justice activist Ruby Smith Diaz said:

The notion of dreaming in a time where we are told that it is foolish, futile or not useful is one of the most revolutionary things we can do.

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