Building a Culture of Peace Amongst Muslims and Christians in Mindanao, Southern Philippines-The Merging of Theory and Praxis

Article excerpt

Introduction.

Working and living in a world where a culture of violence, disharmony and conflict seem more and more the norm, or rather the accepted norm, it is from the outset a challenge to even use the terminology of a culture of peace. Working here in Mindanao, the southern island of the Philippines, to build such a culture amidst a protracted and highly divisive Muslim and Christian conflict which has characterized daily life for the past 30 years and has caused an estimated loss of over 120, 000 lives, this challenge is all the more real.

Three years ago, the Peace and Reconciliation program of CRS(1) faced this challenge and began to identify areas and people with whom to work in order to build the foundations for such a culture. The conflict here is one that on the surface may be perceived as a religious conflict between two different religious and indeed cultural groups, but under that surface lies a more deeply rooted and highly complex web of cultural, historical and structural violence and injustices encompassing land issues, poverty, disempowerment, marginalisation and poor governance. In this article I will outline some of the challenges and indeed fruits of this work as well as sharing some insights and learnings from the field of practical experience of building a Culture of Peace.

What do we mean by a `Culture of Peace'?

To speak of a Culture of Peace, one has to first of all ask what we mean by peace. This is a fundamental question as it has important ramifications in all aspects of trying to attain such a culture. Within our work, it is a given that peace is not just the absence of war, a concept that is frequently termed `negative peace' by most theorists and practitioners. Peace, or rather "just peace" is much more than this, as implicit in peace is justice, which entails working towards establishing right and just relationships. As such, peace building cannot be seen in a vacuum; it is contingent upon justice and development issues being addressed. Peace in itself will not succeed if people are impoverished, marginalized, disempowered and jobless. Indeed renewed violence can often occur if such issues are not dealt with. Justice is a foundation for peace. To quote John Paul Lederach; `Justpeace' is an orientation toward conflict transformation characterized by approaches that reduce violence and destructive cycles of interaction while at the same time increasing justice in any human relationship'.(2)

A society built on this foundation therefore should be one in which the dignity and rights of all are respected and in which each person is given the opportunity to reach full human potential and development. Is this a utopian ideal? Not if you believe in peace as a way of life and as something that must take root and be allowed to grow in all aspects of culture and society. Not if our national and world leaders invest as much energy and resources in waging peace as they do in waging war. Not if people stand up and say enough is enough, we no longer accept violence as a way of life, and discover creative non-violent alternatives, beliefs and skills to seek a peaceful future for their children and themselves. Then no, this is far from being a utopian ideal, and some of our experience here amongst various communities in Mindanao has shown that peace is not only desired but indeed attainable.

Mindanao experience in building a COP.

There are many paths to peace and many ways of seeking to attain a culture of peace, from peace education to peace advocacy and mobilization, from culture of peace workshops to trainings on skills for alternative nonviolent conflict transformation, community based projects which bring both communities together around a development project and establishing peace zones. Some of these experiences I shall outline below as I give an overview of the guiding theories and principles underpinning our work in this field.

Person as peacemaker. …