Thoughts from the Forum for Cities in Transition Conference, Kaduna, Nigeria: are our ambitions for peace great enough?

One of the most striking things about my visit to Nigeria was the way in which Christians and Muslims are working together. Coming from Northern Ireland where Christians often find it hard to work together with any consistency it was quite stunning to hear not only of existing interfaith projects for peace but also the call for more. There was a critical awareness of the need for faith communities to be part of the civil society infrastructure. The Nigerian representatives on the Forum for Cities in Transition told us that it is not enough for Muslims and Christians to work separately. In the face of the devastating violence and ensuing loss, grief and destruction, there needs to be a much stronger message coming from the faith communities. That message must, they told us, be against segregation and difference. It must be about peaceful co-existence. I confess I found the ambition of peaceful co-existence difficult. Some time ago we set that aside as an ambition and have looked for something more – integration, sharing, united community. But then again, peaceful co-existence was an honourable ambition for us once too when things were bad. It was a privilege to listen to Imam and Pastor talk about their interfaith project, an important NGO for mediation and building a community in which people of difference can live together. As they listed their models of engagement I found them strangely familiar. They included: Interfaith education in peace, formal and informal Peer mediation for students in schools and colleges African affirmative dispute restitution models Faith based Psycho-social therapy Interfaith peace clubs Media dialogue Young ambassadors medal Mediation tents or town hall meetings Meetings and meeting spaces at flashpoint areas, peace gates etc. to provide a metaphor for peace Early response systems using modern technology Peace matches Policy advocacy Peace declarations and affirmations And I didn’t write them all down! As I listened I remembered Rwanda and some of the things I had heard there. Faith-based psycho-social therapy was popular there too, as were some of the other models. But I also wondered if we sell ourselves short. Would we ever systematize what we do in Northern Ireland into a list of models for peace building? Do we think of ourselves as critical in the peace-making process? Have we, in the churches, yet understood how critical it is for us to step into the civil society space to work for the ambitions of integration, sharing and united community? Or are we still constrained by our differences? Are we too consumed with the past to seek the justice of a future in which things will be radically different from the past? Maybe we are leaving all the value-based arguments to those who were ‘actors’ in the past rather than grasping a value-based position right now to work for a future which looks nothing like the divided, violent, sectarian past which we lived through. The Nigerian call is for values which stretch us to working with others for higher ambitions rather than living in our own disputed past.

The Imam and the Pastor -see them on youtube


Thoughts from the Forum for Cities in Transition Conference, Kaduna, Nigeria: Creating enabling environments

The future of young people in post-conflict societies is a burning issue for anyone concerned with the future not only of countries, but of the world. The push factors for terrorism, those factors that push people into conflicts on one side or another, have to be addressed. Among those push factors are the ordinary, everyday experiences that young people across the world have of education but no employment, of no purpose or meaning to their lives. In countries where poverty and corruption are the order of the day those push factors take on a hue of their own. Not everyone has access to education. Many have no provision for developing skills for or opportunities to work. Idle and tired of the world as it is, they can be propelled to places which appear, in the short term at least, to give some meaning to their lives.
But push factors alone do not make for terrorism. There are pull factors too, situated at the ideological end of the spectrum. Without the ideologies that support the push factors there would be no terror, no conflict, no lords and no people to feed the ‘war machine.’ Those who run the campaigns, sign young people up for conflict and draw them into violence, require an ideology to underpin their actions. Instead of using their wealth or power for good they flex their muscles to exert power over others and gain more for themselves. Truth is, of course, that those who serve them will see little benefit from conflict driven by exclusive and excluding ideologies. So the pull factors must be addressed.
The result of addressing both the push and pull factors is that enabling environments are created for young people. Without such enabling environments it is likely that young people will never achieve their potential or be reconciled with all that they have the potential to be. Enabling environments require policy on employment and education, policy on local and foreign investment, policy that directly relates to young people and to those who would use them for their own ends. Policy is required to address the shortcomings in understanding their own background, culture and religion as well as addressing misconceptions about the background, culture and religion.
Muslims and Christians are finding ways to talk about these things openly. They are applying themselves to working out of their shared value base without feeling that there is too much loss to either of them. Both have caught the vision of a greater loss if enabling environments are not created, if common ground is not stood upon and if young people simply become the fodder for another divisive and destructive cycle of violence.
The energy, dedication and vision of these Muslim and Christian leaders makes me wonder where my energy, dedication and vision has been stunted by the cultural mores of the society in which I live.