A CALL to reject a vision of security “stemming from walls, X-ray machines, armed security forces, and other militarised means of separating one population or group from another” lies at the heart of a new book on peace-building launched this month.
The book, Indivisible: Global leaders on shared security (Olive Branch Press), contains contributions from more than 40 peace activists, from the former US President Jimmy Carter to Victor Ochen, a young activist who campaigns against child-soldier recruitment in northern Uganda. The launch was hosted by Christian Aid.
Several of the writers are Quakers. “Shared security” is the name of the 50-year vision for United States foreign policy developed by the Friends Committee on National Legislation in 2013. In an introduction, the co-editor of the volume, Kerri Kennedy, associate general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, argues that “peace and security are, by their very nature, indivisible; a threat to coexistence in one corner of the world is a threat to our communal safety everywhere”.
She asks: “What if we collectively reject the present global status quo, in which security is seen as stemming from walls, X-ray machines, armed security forces, and other militarised means of separating one population or group from another?”
Her co-editor, Ru Freeman, a Sri-Lankan-American writer and activist, warns that “the old dominance predicated on ideological arguments has been replaced by the creation and nurturing of fear, which ‘necessitates’ protection of the seemingly innocent from the angry hordes at our imaginary gates.”
An Egyptian writer, Khaled Mansour, notes that “reams of studies and articles claim that people around the globe are becoming more populist, more protectionist, even chauvinist and nativist”.
But, amid the calls to look beyond “imaginary gates”, Dr Maya Tudor, an Associate Professor of Government at Oxford University, argues in favour of “inclusive nationalism”, warning that “if liberal elites will not use it, they abandon it to those with illiberal sympathies. . . Nations are still communities that fulfil a deep and basic need for human connection in the modern world.”
Many of the contributors are young activists. The UN secretary-general’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, notes that, while 51 per cent of the world’s population are under 30, just two per cent of the world’s parliamentarians fall into this age group.
“Rather than youth being a problem, or the potential cause of national instabilities as is commonly believed, the vast majority is simply refusing to acquiesce to untenable injustice and deprivation and pushing back against violence that has been done to them and their future,” she writes.
Kessy Martine Ekomo-Soignet, a peace-builder in Central African Republic, writes that “a large segment of the population, mostly young people, are against violence and try their best. . . I do not think that I will live long enough to fully enjoy the fruits of this work, but I think that we are doing our part in the relay of life by laying a solid foundation for the generations of Central Africans who will come after us.”
Several of the writers have been personally affected by violence. Hajer Sharief, a co-founder of Together We Build It, which has been working on the democratic transition in Libya, describes how she woke up to find that her friend had been shot dead. She notes that “my passport is taken to indicate that I am a probable terrorist in numerous states across the world.”
Several contributions speak to the Palestinian experience; there are no Israeli contributions.
Although there are many accounts of dramatic interventions — including President Carter’s visit to North Korea in 1994 — contributors emphasise, too, what peace-building looks like, day-to-day.
The head of the Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement at the University of Stellenbosch, Brian Ganson, notes that people seem most engaged by “exotic, dangerous, and exciting” stories, such as “coming face to face with the machete-wielding crews”.
“But the peace-building work of which I’m most proud after 30 years, and which I believe has had the most impact, is far from exciting. It takes place in community centres with flip charts as people map what divides them and what connects them. . . I’ve come to think of peace as mundane as plumbing, and myself as a peace-builder, particularly one who often works in other’s communities — as a plumber.”