Young people ‘indispensable’ in building peace

Ambassadors2Lay Centre resident Lailatul Fitriyah, a Muslim student from Indonesia, offered her reflections on peace building at a luncheon at The Lay Centre, with more than a dozen Ambassadors to the Holy See. The 14 January luncheon also served to inaugurate The Lay Centre’s 30th anniversary year.

Fitriyah, who earned her master’s in international peace studies at the University of Notre Dame,  spoke of the need to promote peace in local contexts by including young people in the process and by employing local wisdom.

Below is the full text of her insightful presentation:

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to deliver my thoughts on this occassion.

Back in 1999, there was a brutal interreligious conflict in Maluku, Indonesia. The conflict was between Muslims and Christians. Both warring parties were indiscriminately killing each other. Casualties reached the staggering number of 9,000-10,000 deaths, from January 1999 to December 2000. However, in a time when befriending a Muslim was fatal for the Christians, and vice versa, some Muslim and Christian mothers banded together and started an open-air traditional market. They sold groceries and produce to protest the ongoing violence and the stifled access to daily needs that pulled their kids into starvation.

My former teacher and a leader in the field of peace studies Prof. John Paul Lederach once said about these people, “They were visionaries. They had the capacity to envision a web of human connections that included building relationships with their enemies. They refused to accept a dualist ‘you are with us or against us’ approach. They embraced complexity. … And of course they took the risk to step into the unknown, armed only with love and courage in the midst of hate.”

The key suggestions here are “embracing complexity” and “to step into the unknown.” The nature of conflict has changed at the global level ever since the Cold War ended. Conflict today is characterized by asymmetrical warfare, non-state actors, and intra-state, instead of inter-state violence. This in turn demands for significantly different kinds of peace-building efforts that apply to the conflict-torn regions. Furthermore, the contemporary world needs a different understanding of peace.

“Peace” used to be a concept reserved to bilateral or multilateral meetings, with its clearest measure of success the absence of armed conflict between states. As early as 1997 however, the United Nations recognized the need to address sociocultural elements of peace-building processes by accepting Resolution 52/15, declaring the year 2000 as the International Year for the Culture of Peace. Following that development, critical considerations into human suffering reveal that violence is not limited to military or armed attacks and that violence comes in many forms. We cannot say that peace is present when millions of children around the world are denied education due to various structural injustices, as much as we cannot say that peace is present when ethnic and religious minorities in many different parts of the world suffer from physical attacks and indignities in their daily lives.

Therefore, a top-to-bottom conception of peace is no longer valid within the context of contemporary peace-building practices. Peace and cultures of peace need to be grown organically in every community by employing local wisdoms, resources, and empowering individuals. It is a time not only for conflict resolution, but also for conflict transformation. This is the moment for governments to work hand-in-hand with their societies, and specifically their youth, to form genuine peace cultures and expressions that are true to their social, cultural, historical and religious values.

The role of young people in creating cultures of peace is indispensable. There is nothing more important in the formation of cultures of peace than creativity and innovation and my generation have both. Embracing the complexity of the contemporary peace-building practices means that we need to keep an open mind, and the youth, with their spirit to learn, are the champions of progressive ideas. However, with all of that potential, it also means that the young people are strategic targets for divisive elements in society. Just this morning at 10 a.m., Indonesian time, we have an example of this: six bombs and some shooting went off in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. The attacks killed at least seven people and injured 25 others. The terrorists were all in their 20s and 30s and pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State. This is why it becomes all the more important to place youth centre-stage as the main peace-building agents.

Here, in Rome, I met a lot of wonderful and inspiring people, who in their own ways chose to stand with peace and against violence. The vast majority of them are working to support the cause of interreligious dialogue, including myself. It is heartwarming to see that their religious commitment, instead of blinding them toward unquestionable obedience, is guiding them to find God in the presence of the other. That is exactly what we need today in the face of religious violence, an inspiring group of young people who believe that God speaks to humanity through the language of love.

In conclusion, now more than in the past, we need a solid co-operation between governments and civil societies to build cultures of peace. Education, the promotion of sustainable economic and social development, respect for human rights, gender equality, democratic participation, tolerance, the free flow of information and disarmament, as mentioned in the 1999 United Nations Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, are important elements in peacebuilding practices. Moreover, what we need to ensure the vibrant and sustainable cultures of peace for the next generation are the recognition of the plurality of cultures of peace and the locals’ capacity in building a culture of peace specific to their own context. Now, we know that in order to do that we need to be able to live with and within diversity, and to take peace as the only way of living and the only way of life. But, tensions exist and endure, and life is not black and white, so we cannot stop questioning: how would we live with diversity? And how would we reconcile the governmental political expediency, for example its culture of goal-oriented policy-making processes that do not do justice to social complexities, with the ever-changing nature of contemporary peace-building practices? I hope these questions inspire lively discussion among yourselves. I leave you with a haiku from Prof. Lederach on the process of building peace:

“Don’t ask the mountain

To move, just take a pebble

Each time you visit.”

Thank you very much for your attention.


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