Uniting for Peace:Building sustainable Peace Through Universal Values
Kevin P Clements
The 25th General Conference of the International Peace Research Association is nearly over. 500 people came from all around the world to Istanbul Turkey to learn about ways in which we can all resist violence and oppression better; figure out how to rehumanise the other in the face of persistent dehumanisation and demonisation; and more optimally work out how we can foster unifying reconciling processes to heal this troubled world.
The good thing about an IPRA conference is that it represents a wonderful cross section of academics, practitioners and hybrid “pracademics”. It is also well balanced in terms of gender , nationality and culture with more or less equal representation from the Global North and Global South. There were lots of wonderful discussions and presentations on the relationships between arts and peace; conflict resolution and peace building; ecology, gender and peace; non violence and peace education. People came from all over and shared their wisdom but more importantly their experiences. There were people who had been traumatised by violence, people living in and with violence as an every day reality. There were others who were working with those who had been traumatised by violence. Still others working on short and long term development strategies to remove the root causes of violence.
I learned about ethical witnessing and the responsibilities that flow from that. I learned about the high cost of patriarchies for half the world’s population. I learned about the multi-faceted logic of non violence and the ways in which non violence generated real solutions to real problems. I gave a plenary on the costs of violence and the benefits of peace which deliberately aimed at combining the statistics of deadly quarrels with the political economy of emotion and the challenges of costing the short and long term emotional consequences of war. I learned a lot about resilience and how to build this in collaboration with others. I learned about the intimate connections between humanistic and religious values and peacebuilding and was inspired by the new generation of peace scholars and practitioners who feel as inspired as I did as young person to make sure that we leave the world more peaceful than when we found it at our birth.
After listening to my friends and colleagues I feel heartened by the the will for peace in the conference. But after watching the daily news about what is happening within the Turkish neighbourhood in Israel-Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, I feel somewhat pessimistic about the short to medium term prospects for a less violent world.
In one of the last sessions of the Theatre and Peacebuilding Commission, for example, a presenter showed an incredibly violent film clip of 14 men being summarily executed by a mob in Aleppo. It was shocking and gratuitous and I did not consider it ethical witnessing.. We took some time to process it but I don’t think we reached a satisfactory solution about how much we have to experience and witness violence in order to oppose it. If we shield ourselves from visual reports of brutality then how do we, as peace researchers and practitioners, know what we are resisting? If we allow ourselves to watch such violence then what are the short and long term consequences of this for our own sensitivity to others. I objected to it because of the traumatising effect of the film on my consciousness . For those who had experienced direct trauma in their own lives, it was retraumatising…. anyway, It raised all sorts of ethical issues about how to contextualise such reported violence, how to process it positively and how to think about ways of resisting it in the future. There is no doubt that armed mobs with a desire for blood revenge pose very deep challenges to those of us with a pacifist inclination.
In any case this 25th IPRA conference ( which marks the 50th anniversary of the development of IPRA) reminded me yet again that peacebuilding and peace making are never ending processes. It reminded me of the importance of confronting the biases, prejudices and violence in my own heart and mind if I am to help others confront theirs. It also reinforced my desire to understand and combat the sources of domination, exploitation in all spheres of social, economic and political life ( and at all levels of human activity) as these lie at the heart of much contemporary conflict and violence.
So even though IPRA is a very poor organisation and there were a few parts of the programme that didn’t work out , none of this matters in the end. Each one of these conferences enables me to meet people living and working in much more adverse circumstances than I do. I am humbled by their struggles for survival , justice and peace. I am invigorated to do what I can to make sure that the dark clouds of total war never descend again and that we eliminate all cultures and structures of violence while building cultures and structures of peace.
Its right that we have done this listening and thinking here at the cross roads of Europe and Asia. It is clear that power, initiative and problems are flowing South and East away from Europe and North America to the Middle East, North, South and South East Asia. These places are becoming the growth centres for the 21st century and it is there that peace will be won or lost.This is a photo of the very first recorded Peace Treaty between Ramses 3 and the Hittite Kingdom. It comes from the Middle East. If they could do it then and carve their intentions in stone we can do it again in the 21st century!!!