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We need to take more responsibility – and take back control

In the absence of focused leadership for peace it’s time we demand more of ourselves, says MIKE HARDY

‘Sometimes, when we watch the evening news and consume our daily diet of stories of intense violence, extremist and anti-social behaviour, we question our abilities to stop our collective plummet into the abyss. It may be true that, on our own, we can make but a relatively modest difference, something to which we should all aspire daily. But consider our power when we act together for common goals, when we view our diversity not as a threat but as the strength it is.’

Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his welcoming remarks for RISING 2015

I am concerned that peace and peacefulness is an issue that our leaders cannot deliver.

Perhaps we shouldn’t expect them to –we should all step up to take more personal responsibility for peace as individuals, within our families and neighbourhoods, as part of our citizenships of nations and global regions.

This is not necessarily because leaders don’t want to, but more because any assessment about what it will require is simply overwhelmed by uncertainties or is just too difficult.

Peacefulness requires taking responsibility for a state of affairs that everyone seems to want, but too few make a priority. But the inspiration of Archbishop Tutu’s words, of his plea for coalition, for common agendas that mobilise our diversity of starting points is potentially seriously diluted in what I will call a ‘BREXIT’ world in which walls rather than teams are built.

So I am concerned about how what is a hard road to peace and peacefulness might become a deal harder as we reconfigure our European relationships.

Tutu’s call, for sharing and taking responsibility for peace, was, in part, the inspiration behind the RISING Global Peace Forum when we launched it in Coventry in 2015.

That year marked 75 years since the Coventry blitz had started an iconic journey of forgiveness and hope. On 14th November 1940 war and concentrated aerial bombardment brought great sadness, destruction and death.

The raid brought Coventry as a city to the special attention of the world. In the following days amidst the smoke and the horror, the then Provost Richard Howard standing in the ruins of the great medieval Cathedral of St Michael, urged forgiveness and set the City on a path of peace-making.

Within three years Coventry had adopted its first German twin city, Kiel followed by Dresden in 1956. Inspired by the story of destruction, rebuilding and renewal, and through a passion for learning from history, for learning to live with difference, Coventry’s 26 twinned cities, including Hiroshima, Sarajevo, Volgograd and Warsaw has created the largest global network of cities in seeking to build a culture of peace.

For many the European Project was about peace – about setting in place relationships on a European level that would remove the threat of violent conflict within and between our communities.

Putting this outcome in doubt by changing the political and economic relationships suggest that peace and peaceful relations in now less of a priority focus.

Today’s Coventry is home to many working for peace. As the UK’s only City of Peace and Reconciliation, our Cathedral’s reconciliation network supports more than 170 community organisations. The City works tirelessly to ensure that everyone who lives here and visits feels welcome, respected and able to live in dignity.

Two world class Universities have attracted and sponsored more specialists and expertise. Coventry University’s Research Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations focuses its team of over a hundred researchers and research students on providing crucial insight and technical advice, true to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, helping to support connected societies and build a sustainable peace.

The RISING Global Peace Forum is led by a coalition of Coventry City Council, Coventry Cathedral and Coventry University, with the support of the Coventry and Warwickshire Champions.

RISING set out to become a ‘Davos’ for peace, drawing on the World Economic Forum model, building a platform for exchange and advocacy. RISING programmes include talks from some of the world’s most inspirational and experienced voices for peace. RISING seeks to set the seemingly intractable crises of today against what history tells us we can achieve.

A recent RISING discussion asked direct question about the future national policies of a post-BREXIT UK and how a UK dedicated to supporting a more peaceful world will operate when outside the European Union.

The discussion raised questions about the quality and commitment of leadership, as so much contemporary debate does. And so RISING is asking some difficult questions.

In the absence of focused leadership for peace, it’s clearly time we demanded more of ourselves. This is neither easy nor fair but we have limited alternatives. Politics and politicians alone are unable to meet our needs.

Tutu’s initiating call was essentially to open new borders as old borders close – new borders based on our own thinking and behaviour; that we should all step up to take more responsibility (and take back control).

In so doing, we should challenge the notion that mobilising personal responsibilities is best left to be monopolised by a resurgence of right wing politics. We should be ‘taking back control’ of as many of our problems as we can. And we need places to identify and discuss the drivers and origins of such problems.

The current intensification of division, polarised landscapes, violence and extremist behaviour appears to make addressing conflict an impossible task, leading to paralysis hopelessness and despair.

But our past tells us that we can achieve what seems to be impossible when it comes to peace. As the insightful Gideon Rose (How Wars End, 2010) reminded us, wars and conflict do end. How they end is in our power to decide.

As Tutu was reminded when watching his evening news, many people in many places appear paralysed by trauma and despair, they feel incapable of changing their lives for their families and their communities.

The RISING forum was launched with the theme ‘The Hard Road to Hope’ recognising how hard it can be to strive for peace against the odds; RISING honours those who do. We have a great deal to learn from the many successful journeys and are often surprised and heartened by the reality that, at first, those journeys had seemed impossible too.

The 2018 RISING Global Peace Forum –The Anatomy of Peace is planned for September 12-13, 2018.

Mike Hardy is professor and executive director of the Centre for Trust Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University and chair of RISING

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