Violence Is Not Normal
The Caucasus has been splintered by war into Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. Three women are harnessing words to counter barbed wire.
You have gotten know these modern day heroes in our articles. Now they have met in Germany to support each other in their fight for peace. Join them!
European politicians of every colour and creed are gathering behind the rallying cry of “fight the causes of flight and migration". Which raises two important questions: who exactly is supposed to man the front lines in this battle? And even more importantly, how are they supposed to fight? While politicians go back and forth looking for an answer, many people all over the world have already begun the hard work in earnest – sometimes with great success. Like Imam Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye in Nigeria, who mediate between hostile Christian and Muslim groups; Mossarat Quadeem from Pakistan, who rescues young people from the clutches of Islamist groups and helps them reintegrate into civil life; and Assad Chaftari, who has gone from being the leader of the secret police to speaking in Lebanese schools to convince young people that violence is not the solution to conflict.
They numbered among the 30 participants at the very first Global Peacebuilder Summit for peacemakers from around the world. Over the course of a week, 30 activists came together at a conference centre in Paretz, a small, idyllic village of 400 in Northern Germany, to talk about how to rebuild their war-torn countries. One overriding question underpinned discussion the conference: What can we do to strengthen civil society?
Not one single politician or representative of the international community was invited to the summit, where every activist was also a speaker. “They know best what their country needs,” journalist and author Michael Gleich says. He and his Culture Counts Foundation were the driving force behind the summit. “We can learn a lot from them.”
As a reporter for the Peace Counts project, he has written on many of these peacebuilders from crisis regions and worked closely with experts and institutions on crisis prevention. Summit participants were selected from a shared pool of contacts. “It has always been my dream to bring all these brave people together in one place.” Because their work largely takes place outside the public eye, he also refers to them as “secret heroes”.
The peace summit was designed as a forum for getting to know one other, exchanging ideas and experience, and networking. It was also an opportunity to take a step back and reflect. Fatuma Adan, a Muslima from Northern Kenya, says, “The conflict is not just external; I have internalized it too.” The 38-year-old lawyer organizes football tournaments in rural regions that bring feuding villages together on the pitch. Her project has already garnered international recognition. But working in conflict regions is emotionally and physically exhausting over time, so participants also focused on exchanging ideas about what gives them the strength to continue their important work.
“The passion I feel for my country gives me strength,” Landry Nintereste from Burundi who works in radio says, and he is not alone. Mossarat Quadeem from Pakistan asks, “If your house catches fire, do you simply leave all your worldly possessions behind, or do you stay, do your best to put out the flames, and then rebuild?” The story of every hero here began with a decision, a commitment. “Everyone has had that terrible feeling when you see something going very wrong. You know you have to get in there and try and fix it,” Fatuma Adan says. She is the child of parents from two warring ethnic groups.
Other participants shared similar problems: Who can guarantee our safety? How can we motivate our workers? Finance projects? At least one member of the group was able to offer a solution to almost every question raised. “These are not normal people”, Ahmad Edilbi, who was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with other likeminded people, says. “They are creators.” This applies to Ahmed too. The 35-year-old Syrian left his homeland in 2011 and he and his family travelled through Europe, homeless for a long time. During this journey, he founded the Dubarah, or solution, an online platform that offers a space where refugees from around the world can come together and help each other. Admad Edilbi has since received a grant that allows him to live in Canada. His homeland is one of the tragic cases in which civil society is disintegrating bit by bit. Many have fled and those who remain are subject to the government’s iron control. He is determined to do what he can to help from his new homeland. “We have to bring those with problems together with people who have solutions,” he says, as if it were easy.
After three days of intensive exchange in the idyllic village, participants headed off to the capital for the second part of the summit. “They can present their concrete political demands in Berlin,” Michael Gleich explains. Which they do on Thursday to the Subcommittee for Civil Crisis Prevention in the Bundestag and on Friday to the Federal Foreign Office, which co-financed the conference and assisted with visa applications. They met with the full range of politicians from conservatives to progressives to talk about their difficulties and the solutions they have come up with.
They have a clear, well-thought out agenda. At the top of the list is the demand that Germany adjust policy to address the realities on the ground, the desire to be taken seriously, and a request to be directly addressed to find out what is needed. Participants called attention to a central conflict that often affects policy decisions: peacebuilding requires a longer timescale than development or humanitarian aid and has to be founded on long-term planning. But donors often demand results in just a few months. “It is easier to dig a well than it is to solve deeply rooted animosities,” one participant points out. What they are asking for is support for their newly founded coalition which they hope will become a global peace movement.
Plans are already in the works to meet again next year. “The summit is now in your hands,” Michael Gleich says. With the Culture Counts Foundation, he has agreed to organise next year’s event and the outlook is positive. Rüdiger König, Head of the Department for Crisis Prevention at the Federal Foreign Office, already announced his support in his closing speech. Until then, participants have created an internal network. One participant wants to learn from Fatuma Adan’s football project and set up something similar in Somalia. For her part, Fatuma Adan wants to learn how to represent her efforts with more confidence in the media, and radio broadcaster Landry Nintereste gives her some tips on how to conduct an interview. They are excited to turn the vison they formulated over the week-long summit into something real: working together at a local level for global peace. Addressing the subcommittee in the Bundestag, Fatuma Adan says, “Give us a voice. Then we will one day be so loud that you will simply have to listen to us.”
Photo: Éric Vazzoler