Justpeace Workshops

Nation Builders, Kandy, Sri Lanka

August 2-7, 2004

Opening: Justpeace in a World of Conflict, Max Ediger

Reflection: The Dalit World of Injustice and Peacelessness, Goldy M. George


Three poems of Sri Lanka

View photos from the workshop.

Read the report from the workshop.

Justpeace in a World of Conflict

"All a round us today, depending on how you count, there are between 60 and 100 international, transnational, civil, and regional armed conflicts under way. The world is at war." Philip Gold, "An Anti-War Movement of One" Seattle Weekly, September 20, 2002

According to the World Bank, the average country reaching the end of a civil war faces a nearly 50/50 risk of returning to conflict within five years, depending largely on whether the root causes of violent conflict have been addressed. (Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict)

Conflicts, natural disasters and unchecked development have left about 50 million people homeless in their own countries. The UN knows of about 14 million refugees worldwide who have fled their homes for safer foreign lands. But there is no global registration system for people displaced within their own countries. 25 million have been forced from their homes by conflicts, with another 25 million driven away by natural disasters and development. (UN Report)

Nuclear warheads still abound.

United States10,455
United Kingdom200
North Korea***8
TOTAL 20,168

(Where Are the World's Nuclear Weapons? by Tamim Ansary)

The amount of money needed to meet all sanitation and food needs in the world for one year is equal to about 11 days of US military spending or 5 days of global military spending

The amount of money needed to solve poverty in the world for one year is equal to about 34 days of US military spending or 17 days of global military spending.

The amount of money needed to solve global education needs for one year is equal to about 6 of US military spending or 3 days of global military spending.
(Note: The US Congress has just approved a 2005 military budget of US$417.5 billion, or about US$1.15 billion per day.)

We live in a seriously threatened world. During the 50 plus years since the end of World War II, conflicts have killed over 25 million people and, according to EarthAction, 90% of those war casualties are civilians. To further emphasize the gravity of these figures it must be pointed out that three out of four of these war fatalities are women and children; the ones least likely to cause or to carry out such devastating conflicts. In fact, in the wars of the last decade, more children were killed than soldiers. Some writers have suggested that, in the history of warfare, the twentieth century stands out as the bloodiest and most brutal – three times more people have been killed in wars in the last ninety years than in all the previous five hundred.

A world thus threatened needs alternatives; alternatives that will rekindle the flame of hope, dispel our fears and our distrusts, and infuse our world with a renewed since of peoplehood and communityhood. Surely our various religious faiths, which cherish so many common values, are imbued with the spiritual wisdom and strength needed to bring out these alternatives.

If we learn but one important lesson from the numerous wars of the past century and the unspeakable violence of the present, let it be this: We can not douse the flames in a burning house by pouring petrol on them. We can not end the scourge of war by devoting large portions of our resources to preparing for and waging new wars. We can not end terrorism by exacerbating those things that create the anger, pain and frustration fueling terrorism. We can not build democratic societies by limiting the democratic space people need to express themselves and participate freely, by demanding that our way is right and all must follow it or be labeled as enemy, by acts that divide rather than by compassion that unites and heals, or by manipulating our religious faiths to justify selfish deeds and desires.

Instead, we must learn to listen sincerely and deeply to those whose voices cry out to us from the wilderness of hopelessness, fear, hunger, sickness and depravity because we can not possibly hope to transform our violent world into a peaceful one if we do not make a serious effort to understand how others think and feel. When we truly learn to listen to others, especially those most marginalized, exploited, angry and frustrated, we can begin to know how to build new economic, political and social systems that respect justice, freedom and human rights. Then we will also truly realize that terrorism, in all its different forms (economic, political, social, cultural, etc), can only continue to thrive and grow in a world where inequality is not taken seriously and no genuine efforts made to end such inequality.

One of the great dangers facing us today is the growing tendency to create simplified answers to very complex issues, especially when those complex issues are ones in which people’s lives are threatened. To do so usually means that the roots of the issue may be ignored or obscured and any “solution” then concocted may well be a recipe for disaster. To confront an issue without fully understanding its root causes will, in worst case scenarios, further acerbate the conflict and bring about more serious violence and suffering. This is not only applicable to those involved in national and global political and economic decision making, but it is also true in our own efforts to work for an end to violence and make possible a time of peace.

A few months back I received an email from Akum Longchari of Nagaland. Over the past few years we have, off and on, discussed the problems facing local Justpeace initiatives and in this particular email, Akum shared the following story with me.

"Just about two weeks ago during a leadership training, a young man remarked that conflict resolution is a western concept. Such an opinion is widely shared by grassroots people here in Nagaland. The main reason behind this attitude being that since the Naga/India ceasefire, a number of groups from overseas have come with all kinds of notions on conflict resolution – apparently to resolve the "inter-tribal conflicts and wars." Most of these groups have not put the struggle in the context of self-determination, but have come with concepts such as "anger management" which apparently does not put the issues into context. Such concepts of conflict resolution that are misplaced within the ambit of issues faced here have only fuelled distortion in perspectives of peacebuilding initiatives – by this I mean that even indigenous forms of peacemaking and peacebuilding for justpeace are negated."

I experienced a similar reaction from local people when I was in Thailand working with Burma Issues. I met people from Burma who had participated in western-initiated nonviolence and peacemaking workshops along the Thai/Burma border, and almost without exception, the participants told me that before attending the workshops they had known nothing about nonviolence or peacemaking, so everything they learned was new for them. This response always puzzled me. Most of these people from Burma had carried out a very active nonviolent struggle against military dictatorship since 1952. Even though they had not yet successfully removed the dictatorship and created a peaceful land, they had quite successfully prevented that military from being able to claim complete control of the country and the people. Their experience in using their own forms of nonviolent struggle had actually been very effective. Yet, after attending only one peacemaking workshop they had become convinced that they knew nothing about nonviolent struggle. Their own successes and experiences in nonviolence had been invalidated and they had become convinced that only the western models they had been introduced to were of worth.

What is happening? Why are the tremendous experiences, wisdom and traditions of local grassroots communities so often ignored and even negated by the present gurus of nonviolence and peacemaking? Is there, in fact, a trend to McDonalaldize peacemaking strategies? Like the golden arches that light up so many streets throughout Asia and replace more healthy local food and drinks, are the peacemaking models of the west overshadowing and destroying the initiatives that local communities and individuals have created based on their own history and culture? If so, should we do something about it, and if so, what? These are some of the questions we need to reflect on during the next four days.

But this does not mean that we are pronouncing present models and programs of peacemaking and conflict solving as useless or ineffective. They, too, are often built on much experience, research and reflection. It does mean, however, that we must not simply be satisfied with these models and use them as magical answers to the violence erupting around us. Rather we must seek new and more effective means of confronting violence and nonpeace that reflect our own histories, cultures, traditions and folk wisdom.

One very important feature of the next four days will be the sharing of stories by and about the most marginalized individuals and groups in our societies. It is from them that we must draw the energy, creativity, power and inspiration needed to work for true political, social and economic transformation and bring about a lasting Justpeace.

In an article entitled Thoughts on Peacemaking, The Necessity of Non-Violence, Robert Franklin explains the importance of the people’s stories.

Those that choose to respond to violence with peace, with justice, mercy, kindness, and listening, are the brokers of healing in a world ridden with violence. When somebody has lost everything - family, home, land, worldly possessions, faith, and identity, the only thing left is a story that nobody can take away. What they had to give is their stories. And the telling of these stories is a healing experience for them. The act of telling the story is an act of peacemaking.

Peacemakers are the recipients and the tellers of these stories. Yet to receive a story is not the end. There is a call to act on the story.

It is painfully clear that peace does not immediately come from these stories. But they give us a starting point. Once we come to grips with the stories, we have a road map of sorts to follow. We know where the injury is and where the healing begins.

Let us, during these few days together, share the stories of the marginalized, and in the sharing let us listen to their wisdom, their strength, their laughter, their weeping and their anger. From these stories we will see the direction ahead.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit a small slum community on the campus of the University of the Philippines in Manila. This small community had existed here on vacant land for many years, but when the university decided they wanted to construct a new building, they evicted the people. Obviously the people resisted the eviction and a protest began. A few days before my visit, the police had attacked the protestors, beat some of them and demolished some of the houses. In the skirmish, a small child with a heart disease collapsed and died from stress and fear.

I joined the family as they held the traditional wake in what was left of their home. It was a very sad experience. The only thing more difficult than seeing a mother who has just lost a child is being a mother who has lost a child.

After the prayers were completed, I took the opportunity to walk around the small community. Running through the middle of the overcrowded slum was a small stream. Usually it was only a small rivulet, but because of heavy rains during the past days, it was rushing angrily through the narrow gap, crashing over stones and trash that had collected, eroding the sides and threatening house built near it. Community people were standing by watching, expressing fears that if the rains continued, not only would they face eviction by the university, but might also be swept away by the rising waters.

It was quite a dispiriting sight. But then I saw one man step into the stream and begin, silently, to remove the stones and piled up garbage that prevented the water from running quickly and smoothly downstream. Rather than be fearful or complain, he had decided that he would do something about the problem, even if he had to do it alone. As he worked, the water began to calm down and one could noticeably tell that the level was dropping.

That, my friends, is a lesson for us. It is not justice and peace that we need to create, but rather we need to remove the obstacles that prevent justice and peace from thriving and flowing freely. Our work is to stand with the marginalized, seek out the root causes of injustice and violence and then work to remove those root causes.

In the Christian Bible, there is a story telling how frustrated God had become because people thought that to respect and worship God, they needed to have great celebrations, spend money on meetings and gifts, sing beautiful music and make sure everyone saw and heard how religious they were. Finally, when the people just don’t understand that they are doing things wrong, God shouts out at them:

"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"

In other words, big meetings, beautiful projects, self-advertisement about our great and effective works really mean nothing. We are rather to involve ourselves in removing the obstacles that prevent the river of justice from flowing smoothly and equally throughout our communities, our nations and our world.

Akum Longchari and Babu Ayindo, in their paper entitled From Cold War to Hot Peace? share the following story.

The scene was a Conflict Resolution workshop for refugees from the Great Lakes region of Africa. In the center of the room lay a plant that the facilitators had just uprooted from the garden outside. Like good facilitators who believed in the power of visual aids we had uprooted a plant with yellowing leaves as a discussion starter in reflecting about the nature of conflict in Africa. We asked the participants: Why are some leaves turning yellow? Theories of photosynthesis were expounded upon. And we, the facilitators, were pleased with ourselves. Then we moved on even the most critical part: what need we do to stop the yellowing of leaves? Again, another torrent of plant biology…but there was this young man who seemed very uncomfortable with the whole conversation. Amid the discussion, he slowly and steadily raised his hand and calmly said: "Paint the leaves." There was hesitation, and then the participants burst into laughter. He did not laugh. "This is what everyone is doing," he added, "why waste time with water, light and manure – go buy green paint and paint the leaves!"

So the issue for us to discuss during this workshop is whether or not the Center for Justpeace in Asia is needed to help clear away the political, economic and social obstacles so that justice and peace can flow freely and all people, especially the marginalized can enjoy a true Justpeace. If our answer is yes, how do we carry out this difficult and delicate task in way that is not simply "painting the leaves green?"

Now, let me share just a few concluding thoughts.

We must have a vision, and the vision we must hold in our spirits must be this: Militarization and preemptive wars will give way to united efforts to end economic slavery, heal the sick, free the imprisoned and bring all people into harmonious relationships. Resources used to produce weapons of mass destruction will be used to build weapons that destroy poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, and illiteracy. Technology used to develop systems to deliver missiles and “smart bombs” to any part of the world at a moment’s notice, will be changed into systems that can deliver necessary food, medical and other resource assistance at a moment’s notice to any part of the world facing a crisis. Swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Mouths that speak out propaganda and falsehoods meant to divide and conquer will turn into ears that listen and spirits that empathize. And all movements for peace and justice will shift from a Culture of Reaction to a Culture of Transformation.

This must be the vision of the Center for Justpeace in Asia as we look forward to the next three years. It is a very idealistic vision, and for that there will be criticism and perhaps even some disparagement, but difficult times call for courage and creativity and if we allow the marginalized to guide and inspire us, we can certainly make a difference.