Peace Education

The following article was published by the American University in Dubai:
Dr. Pamela Chrabieh
In An Agenda for Peace (1992), the former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali introduces to the concept of post-conflict peacebuilding as “an action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict”.[1] In other words: 1) Sources of violence are diverse – political, ideological, economic, social, ecological, historical and psychological. 2) War is not reduced to combats, alliances and treaties. 3) The absence of military battles does not in itself ensure local, regional and international peace, nor simple peacekeeping initiatives.
In Peace Education: How We Come to Love and Hate War (2011), Nel Noddings explores the psychological factors that support war, such as nationalism, hatred, religious extremism and the search of existential meaning[2]. In Le Virus de la violence (The Virus of Violence, 1998), the late Lebanese psychiatrist Adnan Houballah identifies two interrelated aspects of war: physical (perpetrated by groups of active fighters and armies) and psychological (war-related traumas and their outcomes within civilian populations, including post-traumatic stress disorders – behavioral and affective -, different mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia, latent tensions and inability to relate to others)[3]. In that perspective, peace cannot be achieved unless these sources are dealt with, and both aspects of war are handled. To that end, the fulfillment of a peacebuilding process is required,   including better political governance and economic systems, human rights, social justice and responsibility, intercultural and interfaith dialogues, ecological awareness, and peace education.
Peace education encompasses a diversity of pedagogical approaches within formal curricula in schools and universities and non-formal popular education projects implemented by local, regional and international organizations[4]. It aims to cultivate the knowledge and practices of a culture of peace. In the classroom, teachers can do little to reduce the economic and political causes of wars, but they can do much to moderate the psychological factors that promote violence by engaging students in a journey of understanding the forces that manipulate them; by introducing them to relevant psychological and pedagogical principles such as the contact experience, conciliation through personal story telling, reckoning with traumatic memories, body-word[5]; by understanding the socio-emotional aspects of reconciliation and discovering alternatives to violence; by fostering mutual respect and building bridges across differences.
Wars start in the human mind and peace education plays an important role in individual and collective mindset changes, from classrooms to communities, from grassroots peace activists, peace-movement organizations and international non-governmental organizations engaged in peace education to societies and local governments[6]. It contributes to the deconstruction of the so-called invincible aura surrounding wars, and to its transformation into a dim light bulb.
A cursory look at contemporary South Western Asian (i.e. Middle Eastern) history might seem to indicate, at first, that war is part of Middle Eastern genetic codes and cultures, and that peace cannot be. However, claiming that Middle Easterners are died-in-the-wool warriors with violence running in their veins is simply and sadly an awful stereotype created by anthropological legends, geopolitical gurus/experts and media propaganda. Peace is a past and present reality/experience/praxis in the region. It is part of the local DNA. It is, as described in many of the spiritual traditions[7], including the monotheistic religions that emerged from the South Western Asian mindset, the realization of humanity’s nature and an ordinary possibility.
However, for this possibility to become the general rule, the norm, there is an urgent need for actively and continuously implementing effective policies of peace education at all levels, geared towards promoting social cohesion beyond mere coexistence, as well as reconciliation and wisdom cultivation. Peace education is being applied in the region but it needs to expand. There are many conditions to pursue this expansion, such as support from private institutions and public authorities, sustained interaction between students and their teachers, and certainly, common initiatives between the different social entities: families, neighborhoods, religious and cultural communities, political parties and the media.

[1] An Agenda for Peace. Preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peace-keeping. Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to the statement adopted by the Summit Meeting of the Security Council on 31 January 1992.
[2] Peace Education: How We Come to Love and Hate War. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
[3] Le Virus de la violence. Paris, Albin Michel, 1998.
[4] Candice C. Carter. Conflict Resolution and Peace Education: Transformations across Disciplines. Palgrave MacMillan, 2012.
[5] Gavriel Salomon, Baruch Nevo (Eds.). Peace Education: The Concept, Principles, and Practices Around the World. Psychology Press, 2012.
[6] Ian Harris. Peace Education from the Grassroots. Information Age Publishing, 2013.
[7] Edward J. Brantmeier, Jing Lin, John P. Miller (Eds.). Spirituality, Religion, and Peace Education. Information Age Publishing, 2010.

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