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The World Peace Day: Social Solidarity amidst Physical Distancing

Students and staff at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania create the universal symbol of peace. September 21 is World Peace Day.

The World Peace Day is once again upon us at a time when relationships are being tested in unprecedented ways with physical distancing becoming part of the norm due to the pandemic. Over the last few months, we are seeing a rise tension in how we relate to the other in terms of empathy, sympathy and compassion which explains the rise in the number of incidents of domestic and inter personal violence.

So this year as there is great play made towards reaffirming global and national peace processes, there should be thought paid towards how one works on inner and inter personal peace. Much more thought has to now be given to how safe environments can be developed at homes where people can pursue conflicts without violence and harm to themselves or others. In this regard, a recent product issued by the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) and World Vision International, the Child Friendly Space at Home activity cards, is a great tool for families to work on providing safe spaces for children at home.

Creating this safe environment for people requires an understanding of the values of equity, fairness, inclusion and respect for human dignity, and with that the importance of human relationships that are fulfilling and functional for peace. Unfortunately, the understanding of values is in short supply but as Jack Ma has stressed, is a key life skill to be learnt in the future of education.

This year in particular with the physical distancing, we are confronted with overcoming exclusion based on difference. World Peace Day has to reinforce the commonalities of existence such as values, ethics, social justice and social responsibility. We have to build communities that are resilient to stress and strain; that are knowledgeable, healthy and can meet its basic needs; that are socially cohesive; that has economic opportunities; that has well-maintained and accessible infrastructures and services; that can manage its natural assets; that are connected. This is the essence of tackling the differences arising out of the pandemic lockdown.

In order for this to happen, there needs to be strong advocates for creative dialogue, and diplomacy that understands the context and addresses civic empowerment. These should ultimately lead to the view that conflicts can and should be resolved peacefully as much as is humanly possible, i.e. that every effort should be bent to that end. And where and when that proves impossible, every effort must be devoted to returning to a situation in which violence does not threaten every person’s safety and wellbeing, and in which conflicts can be handled by dialogue, discussion, the law and settlement.

This is very much the concept behind developing respect and understanding which was articulated by Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen in his book ‘Identity and Violence’ that the key to good citizenship and social cohesion is the encouragement and retention of multiple identities. People have several enriching identities: nationality, gender, age, and parental background, religious or professional affiliation. They identify with different ethnic groups and races, towns, or villages they call home, sometimes football teams; they speak different languages, which they hope their children will retain, and love different parts of their countries. It is the recognition of this plurality and the searching for commonalities within this pluralism that will lead to greater respect and ultimately understanding and acceptance. Thus, these new solutions will have to challenge people to accept diversity and create equal opportunities for diverse communities, ethnicities, traditions, cultures and faiths. The new solutions will also have to take into account the existence of multiple identities which add a richness and variety to diversity and pluralism as part of a common wealth that needs to be celebrated in the global civil society and integrated into life as a positive force for development.

True inclusivity can only be obtained when we carefully position all elements to create a compelling cosmopolitan mosaic. There is a need to remain committed to engineering the software needed to work effectively in a range of situation. This will never be easy, but remains vitally important for, it involves creating the very 'ideas and institutions that will allow us to live together as the global tribe we have become' as Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote eloquently in Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.

This starts with the empowerment of young people to be part of and take the lead in building peace. Young people are agents for peace, engaged in transforming the structures and institutions that hinder the socio- economic and political well-being of people living in fragile and conflict affected communities. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, young people have been on the front lines of self-organising and responding to the pandemic.

Dealing with addressing conflict and building peace is about the long term. While political leaders’ decisions are required to make these unfold positively, to sustain or protect them, they do not come about at the flick of a leader’s switch. Similarly, while peace is most likely and strongest when many individuals gear their actions toward peacebuilding, the effects of activism are not necessarily either quick or linear. Rather, change is indirect, incremental, and cumulatively transformative and above all it is personal. It is at this personal level that we need to start.

It is at this personal level that we need to pause and hit the reset button this World Peace Day in terms of building back relationships and social solidarity despite the physical distancing.

(Amjad Mohamed Saleem is a Geneva-based scholar on peace and conflict resolution. He works for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.)

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