As conflict continues to rise in different parts of the world due to different reasons, it is inevitable to ask ourselves, what is happening with peace? And why does it seems to be crumbling so easily? To answer these questions an interview with Rosie M. Chawla was conducted last May 3rd of the current year. She is the Director of Global Education Projects and Partnerships, part of the UNESCO Center for Peace.
How would you define peace? Is it the same as the “absence of war”?
Peace is not the absence of war. Peace is the ability to manage conflicts without violence and war, to have constructive conflicts, and to have institutions in place that render fair and equitable decisions. Peace is about creating and growing tolerance, without force or abuse of power. Peace is not just people getting along, but peace is the ability for people to work together through things, to overcome things, and to fight for the right things that they believe in; being able to fight for your own rights without persecution. Peace is about a society that is adaptable, that is flexible, and that is growing its own humanity through its interactions and the systems.
What is the role of institutions within building and maintaining peace?
Institutions are built, developed, and run by people, so institutions and buildings alone cannot create actions and decisions. The people behind them, people that run the institutions, people in power, and also the public who choose those in government have the responsibility; not institutions by itself but people who have the responsibility to run them and also the people who have the responsibility to monitor them, because I think monitoring and compliance are very important aspects of peace that often are overlooked. If you do not have an enforcement, somebody keeping track of how the law is being applied, how it is being used, the same law could be used to target one group but provide fair and just life to another. When we talk about peace, especially for young people and for all young peace makers, we need to really think about what peace in each society looks like, because what is peace for some is not necessarily for all, depending on geography, background, and many different variables.
What does culture of peace mean?
Culture of peace must have pillars and one of the mains pillars is tolerance. However, this word is not that you tolerate oppression but, are we tolerant of those that think, worship, eat and have different ideals from us? How do we integrate all these groups of people and how do we live and function in a society that has the principles and values of equality, democracy, civic rights, accessibility, sharing of resources? Therefore, when we talk about the word culture, we are talking about music, lifestyle, language, clothes, and geography. A culture of peace is a culture that is adaptable and tolerant of all different types of people. It allows them to work and function with each other through peaceful relations and it has institutions that support those processes. Hence, if there is a conflict, it can be resolved without violence, abuse, and war. It is when cultures can thrive together without threat or abuse of power. Likewise, it is important to mention that the context of tolerance is that I should not be allowed to kill a person that has a different mindset and opinion than me. For this interview it means that you do not use violence, abuse, and power to destroy a human being; not only physical death, but also economic and social death, or having their freedom taken away to stop them from thriving.
How do you think peace and education could help resolve current issues in the world?
I believe that young people that we see in our classes are going to be somebodies’ bosses or parents one day, they are going to be decision makers, leaders of organizations and communities, or maybe politicians. If in our education journey there is no discussion of understanding how to have peaceful relations, to do peacekeeping and peacebuilding, we are going to grow up not understanding the factors of violence and war. If you do not know peace, if you have no understanding of what disrupts peace, and if you never think that you are responsible for having peaceful relations within your community and workplace, then every idea that comes into you head to attain your goals sounds like a good idea. Thus, if someone disagrees with you, you might think is okay to fire them or eliminate them because you have never had the opportunity or the maturity to understand tolerance, which at the end, in large scale, it turns into “if you do not agree with me, we go to war”. If you teach peaceful actions from a young age, that type of awareness stays and is applied, which seems to make a big difference, because these are values that are projected into adulthood creating conscious individuals that do not only chase personal goals.
Can peace be achieved in regions/ countries that have structural violations of human rights, rampant criminality, corruption and weak judicial systems?
I would say yes, I think even in the most horrified justice systems, even in our past in history. However, what needs to happen is peace education: profoundly study peace, build peace with others, and understanding non-violence to obtain and reform justice systems. Now, is this unreal? It is if you are the person being killed because people in power commonly use strength and violence to shoot you down. Peace is possible in any point in time if peace is really understood, if peaceful methods are really crafted, and if there are large number of people fighting for it.
Do you see a direct relation between peace education and conflict resolution?
Yes, I do not believe you can have one without the other. Conflict by research has shown that happens every day in work, at home, and even in the most personal intimate relationships. If people do not have the grasp of coping skills, they do not have conflict resolutions skills. How do you understand what is happening? How do you understand what is under your control or not? How do you generate reasonable expectations? But above all, conflict resolution also teaches you when is the right time to let go and understand you are not going to be able to obtain the goal you wanted. Thus, you cannot have a true understanding of peace education, unless you have conflict resolution skills, knowledge, and background; they go hand in hand. You need to look at what already exists and question: what is the element that is missing for peace to occur? You must be so real about who you are, what is it that you are trying to do, and how you really embark in change. People would get lost without conflict resolution, understanding and knowledge. Ultimately, when someone has conflict resolution skills, they find the peace they can bring into their lives; you can turn something difficult into something peaceful.
Is war justifiable? if yes, under what means?
The immediate answer is no but then you question: if someone wants to have a war with you, what are you going to do? No, I do not think war as an aggressor, someone who initiates it is ever justifiable, especially without resolution, without discussing it. On the other hand, history has shown that in some cases war needed to happen in order to stop massive and systematic abuse. War is still use as a means to obtain a goal, as a means to overpower and overthrow, but are those justifiable means? No. I think war is a signal that we are not fully transformed into a civilization that will not use power, violence, threat, and force to oppress others; we are still not there yet. We still use military power to oppress and get the outcome that we want.
Are there conditions or requirements that make peace long-lasting?
Yes, I do not think peace is something that you get and then it just works itself. You have to always look at a country or community and ask yourself: if peace is not growing, then, what is growing? Division? Hate? Oppression? If peace is not growing, something else is growing. In order for peace to grow we have to make sure our institutions are fair and just, that the people running and making laws for those institutions represent the peace values and values that we want to see in our society, and we have to make sure our education systems are equipped to teach peace values from the beginning. Also, we must make sure that our leaders are people that do everything they can to resolve conflict without sacrificing peace, that press and media have freedom to speak up when they want to, and that identities are all equally recognized. All these things need to keep like a clock functioning for peace to continue to exist and be a value that society can hold on to.