On a day like today, on the 7th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, I ask you:
“Who counts as human? Whose lives counts as lives? And finally, what makes for a grievable life?”
– Butler, 2004
This should be a day of solemn remembrance, not a day of celebrations. For how do we celebrate the many thousands of lives, all lives, that were lost during the 30 years of the conflict?
Yes we can remember the day we could breathe a sigh of relief that it was all over, but we should remember this day solemnly, not for the messy politics of the war, but for those lives that were lost, and for those families that carry that pain to this day.
I condone the move made by the government of Sri Lanka to call off ‘victory day celebrations’ and instead have a day of remembrance where we will remember this day respectfully. One more step towards reconciliation.
S moved to Canada when he was 6 years old. Growing up in Canada, he always imagined the Sinhalese person as ‘the other’, ‘the alien’, who had a different race, a different language, a different religion, and was just different in every way. It was when he started university that he came to the realisation that ‘we are all just the same’, when he met his Sinhalese friend.
They soon grew to be the greatest of friends – and he soon realised that he had more things in common with his Sinhalese friend even more than he had in common with his Tamil friend from India.
Just like most of us realise, when you put aside the race, the religion, the language, the political opinion and ideologies – beneath the surface we’re all the same.
We just need to remember that the conflict was not an ethnic one, it was a political one. Maybe then the tensions we have one a personal level would fade away.
I will not speculate the authenticity of this story, there is always two sides to a story, but considering that it is true, there are a few things that I would like to draw attention to that will help the reconciliation process of Sri Lanka.
First of all, I was saddened by just reading what the parents would have gone through, not only that they were unable to understand completely what was going on due to the language barrier, but just being sent from place to place with no proper direction, and not being able to see their son for five days, whilst being told that he was in a seriously critical condition. I was sitting on my desk, safe and sound, but my body felt like it was somewhere else, frozen, my eye threatening to tear.
Today was the final day of the training for the Olympic Truce Youth Peace Ambassadors, it was nonetheless a day filled with important lessons and valuable advice on how to carry out our mission as Peace Ambassador’s.
Manal Kelig an important player of the Tourism Industry in Egypt spoke to us about Tourism and Peace.
We may not realise it but we need peace for tourism to be successful but right now the industry is not paying attention to peace rather they are only focusing on the commercial aspect of it. Manal Kelig thinks that if tourism is adjusted in a better model it will be possible to encourage equality and peace
Giving an example Manal explained that an Iranian passport holder is not allowed to travel to countries occupied by the Palestine’s, but at that moment Egypt, Israel and Iran were sitting on the same table discussing issues regarding peace. This is an example of what we as peace ambassador’s can do, we need to speak peace and change everyone’s perceptions.
So what can we do to promote peace through tourism? “Be a Verb, not a Noun!” said Manal, “be an ethical traveller and a positive traveller.” We need to choose sustainable tourism and make sure that we don’t add to the negativity but most definitely add to the positivity.
Yesterday the Youth Peace Ambassador’s were out in the streets of London (Stratford Olympic Park and Central London) conducting a survey to determine the figures of how many people have actually heard of the Olympic Truce. We went around asking people if they have heard of the Olympic Truce. Out of the 1035 respondents only 59 have heard of the Olympic Truce. Out of the 600 British respondents 3.8% have heard of the Olympic Truce, whilst 8.3% of the respondents from 69 other countries have heard of the Truce.
These results go straight to the point we were trying to make before, it is quite disappointing that The Olympic Truce has such little significance. The other day, David Wardrop – Chairman of United Nations Association Westminster said: “You can’t have an Olympic Games without having an Olympic Truce. We’re only celebrating the games because the Ancient Greeks decided that sports are greater than war.”
One of the main learnings of today was the importance of finding common ground to promote peace.
Dolapo Fakuade, UNESCO Looking Beyond Disaster & Peace Ambassador emphasised that an important factor for peace is finding common interests, this is what brings us together. At most instances people tend to look at the negative, focusing on differences rather establishing what we have in common.
Dolapo gave us an excellent example of how mutual understanding created a truce which has been on for the past 10 years among two Yoruba Tribes in the Western part of Nigeria.
The Ife-Modakeke conflict which was going on for more than a century was devastating not only for the tribes but to anyone who tried to cross the area. People were killed, schools closed and inter-married families were broken.
Today the Peace Ambassador’s visited the Imperial War Memorial to take a look at the ‘Build the Truce’ exhibition which was created to commemorate the Olympic Truce. As you enter, on the left side is a small section dedicated to this exhibition. This goes to show that governments and other organisations spend more money on war than on promoting peace.
Even though the ‘Build the Truce’ exhibition was small the message given in the film was effective. It highlighted that the world sees peace as the absence of violence but it actually goes much deeper. It displayed a message of the struggles in many war inflicted countries and even though war maybe over in some places there is still need for economic and human development.
Peace building is a long and hard process… “It needs a lot of work. It needs a generation or two. It needs a lot of people to work in the right direction, never give up or loose their patience” says Abas Al Janabi an Iraqi who was interviewed for the exhibition. This the greatest message we as Peace Ambassador’s can take home. It’s surprising and disheartening to see the lack of interest in promoting peace, I’m sure it costs a fraction of what it costs for war… so why not do it? The answer is not simple, and on our journey we will learn why everyday. But having a strong support network will help us start somewhere.
Truce: An agreement between enemies or opponents to stop fighting for a certain time.
Peacemaking: Reducing the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict: laying the foundations for sustainable peace.
Today I learnt that Sri Lanka has it good compared to the extreme struggles and conflict some other countries go through. The Youth Peace Ambassador’s shared their stories and the situation in their countries. I was fortunate enough to hear their stories first hand and I think it’s important that the world knows some of these stories too, so here I am about to share them with you.
Lilach from Israel lives 40km from the Gaza Strip. Lilach, her family and neighbours face the terrors of missiles and bombs on a daily basis. She know that it’s not good for this to feel normal, but that is the reality, this is the norm. They also have shelter’s that protect them, since they are so close to the Gaza Strip they have to run to the shelter’s within 15 seconds. Added to this constant state of conflict, every Israeli has to join the army at the age of 18. Girl’s must serve in the army for 2 years whilst boys serve longer.