Ukraine. Manipur. Sudan. Congo. Palestine. It is despairing to watch the list of places reeling under acute humanitarian crises grow heartbreakingly long. But that is a luxury not afforded to those of us living in safety and privilege, and there is much to be done.
At times like these, the words of civil rights revolutionary Martin Luther King Jr bear repeating: “Those who love peace must learn to organise as effectively as those who love war.”
But what really is peace? That was one of the hardest questions that came up early in my peacebuilding career. Further, the genocide in Gaza has also led to a sense of helplessness among many, not knowing what to do to help ease the colossal suffering of fellow beings.
A useful starting point is moral framing. Moral framing helps to position oneself more clearly on where one stands on an issue, and consequently define the direction in which one wants to go.
Though peace is a notoriously ambiguous term and can mean different things to different people, Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, 93, has some instructive answers. Also known as the “father of peace and conflict studies”, Galtung proposed, among other things, two major types of peace: negative peace and positive peace.
Negative peace is the absence of violence, while positive peace is an ecosystem that makes peaceful and successful lives possible.
The scope of this idea is immense. After all, mere survival is not peace, just like the absence of disease is not health. It is adequate nutrition, regular exercise, and good mental health that make it possible to be holistically healthy.
What does it mean to build peace and is that even possible?
Turning mirrors into windows
Peacemaking refers to steps to resolve an ongoing war or conflict while peacekeeping refers to measures taken to maintain truce agreements. But peacebuilding goes beyond and seeks to create just and equitable systems so societies can thrive in peaceful conditions.
Peace education is one of the ways to undertake peacebuilding, by educating young people and citizens on the paradigms and possibilities of peace. It is, what one might call the opposite of propaganda.
Peacefulness is achieved by meeting conditions outlined by the eight pillars of positive peace. These eight pillars, as explained by the Institute of Economics and Peace, are:
(i) Well-functioning government
(ii) Sound business environment
(iii) Equitable distribution of resources
(iv) Acceptance of the rights of others
(v) Good relations with neighbours
(vi) Free flow of information
(vii) High levels of human capital
(viii) Low levels of corruption.
This framework points out accountability at different levels – ourselves, our governments and our people – gives tangible goals to work towards.
It also indicates where one’s skills can be put to best use to create positively peaceful societies, even if the work one is doing does not necessarily look like peacebuilding. Many of these pillars are aligned to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and can be used to create or strengthen peace-oriented programming.
Peace index reports
In addition to the positive peace framework, the Australia-based Institute of Economics and Peace offers several other grounds upon which peace can be substantively built. Notable among the global thinktank’s offerings are three reports that it publishes annually – the Global Peace Index, the Global Terrorism Index, and the Ecological Threat Report. Covering more than 99% of the world’s population, each of these reports is extensive, led and vetted by experts, and most importantly, open access.
The oldest, the Global Peace Index, ranks countries on peacefulness, based on indicators like ongoing domestic and international conflict; societal safety and security; and measures of militarisation. For instance, the 2023 Global Peace Index report notes that India is among three countries where the military expenditure increased $40 billion since 2008. India ranks at 126 out of 163 countries. “The country experienced an improvement of 3.5 per cent in overall peacefulness over the past year, owing to improvements in violent crime, neighbouring countries relations and political instability,” notes the report.
The Global Terrorism Index similarly ranks countries on terror activity, considering not only deaths but also incidents, hostages, and injuries from terrorism, weighted over a five-year period.
The Ecological Threat Index is the newest addition, which assesses threats relating to food insecurity, water risk, natural disasters, and demographic pressure. It also draws important connections between ongoing conflicts and ecological threats.
The facts and figures in the reports themselves can add to a peacebuilder’s arsenal. I use the term “arsenal” unironically here because, as King said, organising peace is serious business. For those of us who step up, must do so on no uncertain terms.
Our demands for peace, just like our ideas of it, cannot be arbitrary. When we call for peace, it must be voiced loudly, precisely, and positively. We must know exactly where we stand, what our failings are, and what we want, in order to start building. And build we must, for so much, oh so much, lies broken.
This article is based on Urmi Chandra’s session, “Where Do I Start? Tools to build peace in a broken world”, drawing from her recent learnings at the Institute of Economics and Peace on November 22.
Hosted by The Education for Peace Initiative at Prajnya Trust, it was supported by Sapan, the Southasia Peace Action Network, and GATHER, the impact arm of Seeds of Peace. The recording of the session can be accessed on Prajnya Trust’s Facebook page.
Urmi Chanda is a Mumbai-based peacebuilder, interfaith researcher, and occasional journalist. She writes and works on religion, peace, social justice, and can be reached on email@example.com.
This is a Sapan News syndicated feature.
November 29 is observed as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.