Invest in Peace joined the conference Towards an Inclusive Peace, in the Caux Palace, Switzerland the first week of July this year. As a personal take-away I felt I got a lot clearer, I cannot attribute it to any one of the excellent presenters and trainers, the parts became more than the whole. This article shares my emerging understanding.
The conference invited a broad range of participants working in peace-building and violent extremism, particularly those working with local, national and international governments, NGOs, and cooperation agencies. They include trainers, mediators, conflict researchers, individual peace-builders and religious leaders. They shared the urgency of the need to learn more about the issue and to explore practical tools they can use in their peace-building work.
Bottom-up and top down are both needed
One general feeling was that to address violent extremism you need a multiple approach – top down using military and policing methods, and bottom-up building inclusive, stable communities. Pressure on individuals, from inequality or putting them in a situation that robs their dignity or takes away their possibility to earn a living undermines peace.
His Excellence Faisal Bin Muaammar, Secretary General of the KAICIID Dialogue Centre spoke about refugees. “Peace is not possible when some citizens are robbed of their dignity,” he said. The solution, he explained, is not found in fear or blaming the other but instead in the belief that all have equal rights
Theories and tools of restorative justice and healing are well-developed and available, but they need a community.
Much work has been done to develop restorative justice – processes where the victim gets chance to meet perpetrator and express the effects of the harm done to them, and the perpetrator is not only served a penalty, but also finds a way to make amends. The finals step is for the community to find a way to accept the perpetrator back.
Restorative justice isn’t just saying sorry, it’s “doing sorry” through active listening and participating in the restoration process.
Strong and effective restorative justice process need a strong community at their base. Absent this, the criminal justice system only has its penal system to work with.
In one session, titled “Restorative Justice: From Theory to Practice,” Thalia González, who is also a Senior Visiting Scholar at Georgetown Law, taught participants how to have honest and open conversations using a circle model. With circles, it’s important to use language carefully and respect the cultures of all participants in the group. This model can set the stage for building shared values, trust and confidence between those involved. Using natural elements such as the environment, water, stones, and sticks can also be a powerful way for the group to connect individuals and open the discussion.
The transition movement is uniquely placed to help introduce restorative justice
With its focus on building resilient communities the Transition Movement is well placed to cooperate with the restorative justice movement and the legal system. Although not represented officially at the conference, much of what was being said echoes the understanding of the Transition Movement.
Amina Khalid, a peace activist from the UK said “there’s never been a time more crucial than this in working to create a more inclusive society.” Treating political, religious, and other refugees fleeing violence as a problem is a problem in and of itself. She shared her personal story of growing up as a refugee in Somalia and immigrating to the United Kingdom at a young age. “A new and positive narrative is emerging,” she said. By working to develop sustainable communities, we can enable and empower individuals to create positive change. This change happens from the bottom-up, starting at the personal and local level, rather than top-down. Justice starts by building relationships with each other.
Heal the harm
Violence – the act of hurting another being with force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something is one thing, but harm is another. Harm is the actual effects of the violence, and restorative justice focusses on the harm – paying the penalty, showing remorse and finding a way to apologize and to do something to reverse the harm.
By focusing on the harm and its knock-on effects, society can begin to heal. We can start with the harm done by extremism, but also the harm done to people by marginalizing them, indeed the harm done by the negative effects of modern industrial society, including pollution and land degradation. Starting from harm and the resulting suffering, all aspects of building a peaceful society can be addressed.
Violence is rarely a one-off event caused by a madman, rather it is the manifestation of a response to exclusion
Looking deeper towards how violence manifests, the conference saw examples of how it can start with a kind of institutional violence. That is to say, that rules or systems are imposed on people that make it very difficult for them to meet their needs. Obviously, criminality and violence are ways out, even though it is surprising how many resist the temptation.
Extremism happens when people are on the periphery, when they are left out,” said Amjad Saleem. Not just inclusion, but the recognition of human dignity is important to build resilience to withstand the draw of violent extremism. And ensuring that basic needs are met such as access to services can help communities recover from the shock of extremist actions.
The trend: failing trust in institutions
Discussing trends, we found that many ordinary people are losing faith in politicians to put their interests first, faith in the police to investigate their case fairly, in the justice systems that they will get justice, and faith in their own chances to influence politics. This trend seems to be world-wide and could be at the root of right-wing populism.
The conference talked about the Other (capital O intended). Delegates expressed how hurting someone else is hurting yourself, hurting the Earth is hurting the population and yourself, and barring people from being able to take care of themselves is another form of violence. When we see the Other as a thing, rather than a human being like ourselves, it is a sign we are losing touch with our humanity.
Many expressed the understanding that peace, and a non-violent world, starts with each individual feeling peace. The peace cafés offered by Invest in Peace, as well as the introduction to Peace Education Programs, were appreciated as simple starting points for communities to start on the road to peace.
The conference offered a wealth of insights, experiences and tools that can be used on the path of our common project: Peace on Earth.
Peace as a human experience (Video from Peace Ambassador Prem Rawat)