Readings in Nonviolence' features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)
Building peace is too important to be left to peace researchers and activists. Human rights are too important to be left to human rights organisations and activists. Ecological issues are too important to be left to conservationists and green activists. Yes, of course we may have our particular interests and campaigns but we cannot exist in a ‘special interest’ bubble and not interact with the rest of the world and what is going on. On the other hand, individually we also cannot try to be involved in everything or we will be a fast burning ‘shooting star’ and our activism will disappear in a puff of smoke and light.
We are also good at talking to ourselves, literally and metaphorically. Even on demonstrations or other public manifestations we can see this when really the aim is surely to try to talk and communicate to other people. So this is a very welcome book, or handbook, looking at how we can build peace in a myriad of different arenas, and taking ‘peace’ to areas we might not think about as being suitable for a ‘peace’ input.
It is also very well presented but not always an easy read both because of the language at times and the volume of information imparted. You might, for example, want to dip into the different sectors it covers before grappling with a section such as “How do I choose the right form of engagement?” (page 17). It also includes a section on peacebuilding principles and some other material. It is comprehensible, it just takes time to grasp the concepts. Material from the book could also be used in workshops either to explore topics further in general or as preparation for thinking, “well, what can we do.....” There is too much here to take in at one sitting or reading.
The lack of Irish/Northern Irish examples is surprising. This is not just me being parochial. Firstly there are some excellent Northern Irish examples of peace building, and just thinking of Quakers alone, Ann Le Mare and Felicity McCartney’s book “Coming from the Silence: Quaker Peacebuilding Initiatives in Northern Ireland 1969-2007” could have provided several. The second reason is that, as a European publication I feel it should have used more European examples (there are very few), both for people to relate to and, for example, to show that ethnic and other conflicts are not just elsewhere, exterior to Europe. Having a European example on ‘Human rights monitoring’ could have highlighted work, and threats to human rights, on the European continent including its western islands (and a number of places and issues come to mind).
The concept could also have been developed of what peace in society in Europe would entail: projects to support and communicate with, as well as encourage acceptable integration of, new immigrants; work on what would be a non-exploitive lifestyle (in resource use and also in comparison with others); communication and integration of all minority groups; poverty reduction and support for children living in poverty so their future is not blighted by the experience; alternatives to the arms trade and militarism. Maybe this is for another publication... and wanders more into the area of justice. It brings to mind that old issue of where and how you can divide ‘peace’ and ‘justice’ and where one ends and another begins.
That said, it is a brilliant concept to relate peace to so many different areas or sectors of life; diplomacy; democracy and politics; justice; security; communication and media; arts and culture; education; business, trade and economics; infrastructure and planning; agriculture and environment; healthcare. Within each sector it breaks it down into particular possibilities for work, e.g. “Arts and culture” covers cultural heritage and exchange projects, arts and storytelling projects, and sports projects, giving concrete examples of work done as well as the theory of change (how the area of work can contribute to peace), and also limits and caveats. In that regard, the book is a cautious one (also in the introductory part) in asking people to be careful, prepare well, consider possibilities and above all not do something which will make a situation worse. I should add that it is wisely cautious, even if at times we may wish to throw caution to the wind.
The Education section covers ‘Democracy and revising curricula’ and gives examples from Rwanda; history teaching had focused on ethnic conflicts, it was then stopped altogether, and now there is a peace education approach adopting peace values and skills. Interfaith projects, also under Education, covers an initiative by QCEA (the publishers of the book) in Brussels leading to faith-based organisations working together on peacebuilding and human rights. Christian-Muslim tensions in Nigeria have been addressed by workshops building trust and providing mediation training as well as training leaders.
To give a bit more of a feel for the book, I will quote a bit from the introductory part of the book before I end.
“Violent conflicts dominate our daily digest of news and media, creating a sense that violence – or the threat of violence – is ever-present, when in fact, it is peace that is the norm. If you consider the number of problematic relationships around us every day and in every context that are being managed or resolved without recourse to violence, it is clear that groups of ordinary people have the capacity to manage and transform violent conflict. Indeed, research shows that over the past 35 years, 77% of conflicts ended through a peace agreement while only 16.4% ended through military victory. In other words, nonviolent approaches are the best paths towards peace – yet civilian peacebuilding is still rarely discussed, promoted or applied in foreign or domestic policy......” (Introduction, page 8)
“...It is a resource which showcases potential forms of engagement across sectors and strata of society, going beyond traditional high-level peacebuilding methods such as mediation, and provides the reader with 40 civilian ‘tools’ that can be used to that end. The variety of examples shows that all actors – governments, regional organisations, civil society, communities, the private sector and individuals – have a role to play in building peace and preventing violent conflict.” (page 9)
Of course as peace and nonviolent activists we may have various other projects and approaches which do not appear here. The book is careful to point to a wider understanding of security than military, including community-based security and ‘human security’. As peace activists we may want to campaign against military policies of our governments, and this may include the use of methods which are nonviolent but classified as illegal. However in doing so we are also wise to show positive alternatives, which is what this book is about. We may also be involved in educational and conscientisation initiatives and that is partly covered here.
“Peacebuilding is not a linear process, Complex conflicts require nuanced engagements, No initiative is without limits and caveats, and the best intentions can easily cause harm if practitioners lack awareness, preparation or contextual sensitivity. For example, democratic elections may be seen as a post-conflict ‘cure-all’ to build legitimate institutions, but in the immediate aftermath of conflict they may re-open grievances and undermine the functioning of institutions.” (page 11)
I am not advocating elections immediately in this situation but an appropriate electoral system could obviate some of the dangers, see www.deborda.org and indeed, consensus voting be added to the Democracy and Politics section (though you could keep adding examples until the book became unwieldy).
Only a very limited number of copies of this book were printed and it will not be for sale so you are likely to need to read it as a PDF....most people prefer reading detailed material in paper format but this is well laid out and labelled so hopefully it will not be problematic for you. In terms of whether you should try to get to grips with this book, I would say, “definitely recommended” – see www.qcea.org It might be something ‘we’ can use immediately or something which becomes relevant in our internal or educational work sometime in the future – if the latter may be the case, bookmark it now.