In 2016 so far, we have witnessed the horrific murder of a British M.P., the Orlando massacre, brutal attacks in Nice, Munich and elsewhere. Shocking terrorist atrocities in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and many other places account for nearly 10,000 deaths this year already. Other armed conflicts have claimed tens of thousands of lives across the world. These conflicts, notably in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Colombia have resulted in the movement of 23 million refugees and displaced people worldwide. An inadequate international response means the burden of these crises is being borne by those countries least able to cope…
This succession of tragedies overwhelms us with a feeling that violence and intolerance may be winning. How to make sense of such brutality and injustice? What to do faced with such threats?
Should we give up on the world, or those parts of it which seem to be broken? Should we turn into ourselves and deny any share of responsibility? Should we turn on each other in frustration? Is it possible to retreat into a protective cocoon and delude ourselves, individually or collectively, that we can escape or deny the reality of the world? Can we share the pleasures and joys of life while insulating ourselves from its terrors and insecurities?
We know from experience that turning away solves nothing.
When so much of what we value is under sustained attack, it can feel like the only appropriate response is silence. We fall silent because speaking and writing seem inadequate; superfluous. We find it hard to imagine that in such circumstances anything we say or write could be worth saying or writing.
We need to reflect.
But after the silence and the reflection, we need to speak and to act.
We need to cherish human life and human values, to turn and face the threats and assert that violence is not winning. Violence is evidence of weakness not of strength; it is the problem not the solution. We need to recognise that it is possible to be heard and to make a difference, that each of us can do something, both on our own and with others.
There are plenty of people speaking out and working hard as individuals and within organisations, to resolve conflicts, to challenge violence and address its legacy, to build mutual respect, human rights, equality and the rule of law. We can be among them.
So the only strong, thoughtful, and human response possible after the horrors of the first half of 2016 is a renewed commitment to defend our values and work for peace, non-violence and global justice.
“Peace is a never ending process, the work of many decisions by many people in many countries. It is an attitude, a way of life, a way of solving problems and resolving conflicts. It cannot be forced on the smallest nation or enforced by the largest. It cannot overlook our common interests. It requires us to work and live together…Peace can only be achieved through its own instruments: dialogue and understanding; tolerance and forgiveness; freedom and democracy.”
Oscar Arias Sanchez, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (Oslo, December 1987)
Educating after the November 13th attacks (December 2015)
Democratic emotions in the face of barbarism (April 2015)
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