Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
By the end of our first week much had happened inside our classroom. What I’m reflecting on though, from Friday 20th and Saturday 21st January, extends beyond our classroom walls. It bridges countries, issues, ideas, people and potential action. It touches upon some of the current challenges facing peace builders, poses questions and offers glimmers of hope.
On Friday 20th January, twenty-four of us from seventeen countries each had time to talk about the pressing issues we’d like to explore further during our time on this programme. We have three months together to learn, practise, share and sharpen our thinking which may lead to future action. We’ll be using conflict tools and analysis techniques to understand our contexts better and in some cases develop new approaches or levels of work. On Friday we listened to each other as one by one the stories, the concerns, questions and ideas emerged from across the globe. It was humbling and energising to be amongst this group of Peace Fellows. It was striking how interconnected many of the topics were and how interwoven some of the conflicts are: intractable wars, disastrous foreign policies, the effects of poverty, struggles with identity, integration and who belongs where. We heard many examples of how issues around land, resources or identity in one country effect the displacement and migration of people, which then impacts and can create conflicts in other places. The situations can and often do spiral.
As one example, anti-immigrant hate crime rose to worrying levels in the weeks surrounding the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Hate crimes increased dramatically, many disturbing physical attacks on minorities occurred, online racist abuse was rife and British MP Jo Cox was murdered not far from where I live. A toxic atmosphere was created around the Brexit debate which seemed to have legitimised hostility towards immigrants and minorities. One of the alarming aspects of Brexit is how it has exploited fears of ‘the other’ and it is fuelling deeply felt tensions that have been caused by a complex mix of poverty, rising inequality and a distrust in current politics. These fears and tensions were then packaged in a simplified way to scapegoat and blame immigrants. Scapegoating is happening not only in Britain but across Europe and further afield.
On Saturday 21st January I looked at twitter for the first time in a week. I felt a deep mixture of emotions. A new chapter had already begun in the USA and mass mobilisation was taking place across the globe. A Women’s march in Washington had gained incredible levels of support across the world (#BridgesNotWalls). To my knowledge a march of this magnitude, across such a diversity of issues had never happened in quite this way before. At a dark time in history, actions of this kind are providing much needed hope and some glimmers of light. My thoughts moved quickly though from feeling inspired by the marches to asking a range of questions. Marches and protests are only an initial step and not an end point, ‘what else is needed? what long term work needs to be done? what skills and capacities can I develop, learn and share?’ I found a number of articles (which I’ll share links to below) from writers across the world about resistance, non violent action, solidarity and how to build bridges between people. From the articles I was reflecting upon there were various lines that stood out to me ‘Non violent actions works best when you study the terrain on which you are fighting’ and ‘Non violent action works best when you stay non violent’. And that’s the challenge, that’s where the rubber hits the road, that’s why we need to practise, learn and train. Another key question facing peace builders is ‘how do we build bridges between people who could be allies for radical change but who view each other with anger and suspicion?’ I enjoyed the articles below, the tangible steps and am taking note of the lessons learned. I hope they are useful to you too.
Jill Mann – The UK
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 22