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Make peace a priority

| Tuesday, August 30, 2016

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

When Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke these words, the United States was embattled in a struggle to ensure the protection of rights and dignity for citizens of color. In today’s world, the challenges we face are no less complex and far-reaching. Conflict is present in all forms, affecting families, communities and nations everywhere.

As we have progressed through the years, Dr. King’s message of escalating violence has been pushed aside and forgotten by many. The rhetoric of politicians, community leaders and everyday citizens calls for aggression and violent retaliation more often than not.

We turn on the news to see presidential candidates including Donald Trump making statements such as “I like [waterboarding] a lot. I don’t think it’s tough enough,” or Ted Cruz claiming he wishes to “carpet bomb” ISIS. Certain political leaders also perpetuate indirect forms of violence against those they consider to have wronged them. Trump does this so often that The New York Times created an interactive catalog of his insults and inflammatory rhetoric.

It is not just political leaders who espouse the supposed value of addressing conflict with further violence, but also organizations such as the NRA and our own neighbors. After every shooting, many find it appropriate to advocate for putting more guns out on the streets. Rather than develop comprehensive, proactive prevention strategies to gun violence, they suggest that more deadly weapons be circulated in the areas we most seek safety — classrooms, grocery stores and movie theaters. Putting a deadly weapon in the hands of any person physically capable of carrying one does not lead us to a place that any of us can feel good about.

Simply put, violence in all its forms cannot be ended with more violence. It takes thoughtful discussions and actions of peace to truly put an end to conflict and establish justice. Peacebuilding should no longer be absent from our discussions of violence of any form, whether that be direct, cultural, structural or institutional. Instead, we must strive to make peace our greatest priority. Whether in conversations with our neighbors, in community meetings or in foreign policy debates on the national stage, peacebuilding must be considered a topic of utmost importance.

Peacebuilding efforts are not to be taken lightly. To create peace and seek justice requires complex frameworks and a deep understanding of the processes and actors present in a conflict. Such change is not always immediate, and tensions may increase before they lessen. In the long term, however, there is much greater potential for a safer, more inclusive, enjoyable society.

Furthermore, the most effective peacekeeping strategies also take care to serve justice and create systems and structures that ensure principles of justice are upheld in any future conflict. Peace and justice should go hand in hand when attempting to end violence, and justice should not be synonymous with hatred, physical harm or the loss of life.

Peacebuilding does not mean allowing perpetrators of violence to walk away from their crimes and pretend they are innocent. Rather, it advocates for the implementation of forms of justice most appropriate for any given conflict and then seeks to build more fair and inclusive structures and systems to limit future violence.

Some may argue that this line of thinking is naive, that some people and groups will always resort to violence. But why must we validate hatred and intolerance by responding with violence of our own? Such actions will only result in greater conflict and intensified hatred.

Additionally, critics of peacebuilding often emphasize that those against whom violence is being perpetrated must “show strength” and refuse to be “cowardly.” However, it is worth considering the exercise of peace and careful restraint is the best possible way to demonstrate strength and moral integrity. To allow conflict and chaos to reign above understanding and genuine effort is a sign of weakness, not a show of strength.

When we refuse to engage with the process of strategic peacebuilding, we sell ourselves short. We are capable of more. In fact, it has been the leaders of our society such as Martin Luther King, Jr. who have stood as a force for peace that have created lasting, positive change in our society. Making peacebuilding a priority in the conflicts we face throughout the world today is the most effective and dignified way to bring them to an end. It is our best hope to prevent darkness from overtaking a night already devoid of stars.

Contact Elizabeth Hascher at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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