Growing up in Northern Ireland, the road to peace could be described as ‘the road less travelled’. Years of armed conflict have led to, at best, a fragile peace process. This is, however, the place I call home and the lens through which my worldviews have formed.
As a military chaplain, I am often forced to come to terms with the problematic relationship between conflict, reconciliation and peace.
“There are many different levels of peace and reconciliation.”
To understand peace and reconciliation, we first need to understand what conflict is, what it is that we are trying to reconcile, and why we need peace. This is not easy as there are numerous interpretations of what creates conflict: collision or disagreement; violence; emotions; incompatible goals; differences of opinion; social change; fear and insecurity. If there are many contributing factors and different levels of conflict then there are many different levels of peace and reconciliation.
Johan Galtung defines conflict using three components: contradiction – underlying issues creating a conflict situation attitude – affecting people’s perceptions and emotions behaviour – from non-violent threats or acts to disruptive physical attacks. For resolution, all three must be addressed.
Galtung talks about peace being positive or negative. The absence of violence does not necessarily make things better, but it is a good start. We have a negative peace in Northern Ireland. There are no ‘Troubles’, but people are still unhappy and living in a negative environment. The absence of direct violence does not always create a positive environment.
Peace can exist alongside repression, deprivation, exploitation and injustice. Negative peace is described simply as: ‘trying to put the fire out without having looked at the cause of the fire in the first place.’
Positive peace is achieved by overcoming a direct conflict situation, leading to a positive environment. Think of Rwanda in 1994. This peace serves the wider population through the restoration of relationships. Positive peace is achieved by peaceful means: legitimacy and justice. Peaceful means in the Rwandan context involved military action.
So, can the road to peace be through armed conflict?” I argue against a purist approach. Our reality is a violent world without armed conflicts. In that reality, however, peace is possible.
If peace is possible after ‘The Troubles’, after the genocide, then perhaps there is hope for the comparably smaller rifts that plague our relationships and communities. In conflict, we have a responsibility to assess our role in the peace process, to be a presence, and show that in our words and actions.
Peacebuilding does not merely require loving one another. It involves mutual acknowledgement of past suffering.
There are many different directions, different roads, different levels of conflict. We need to make sure that ‘the road to peace’ is one we all recognise, well-lit and well-travelled. ¶