Peace Possibilities among People of Conflict Zones may be higher than What Polls Suggest

Peace Knotted Gun UN United Nations

Sometimes polls and surveys in conflict zones reveal a rather pessimistic and dismal picture of what people on both sides of the divide think about each other and the possibilities of them living in peace with each other. This may well be the situation, for instance, regarding some of the most discussed conflict zones such as Palestine and Israel. However, instead of getting too disappointed or disheartened by this, we must keep in mind those factors which tend to downplay the possibilities of living peacefully with each other in the future.

Several conflicts have existed for a long time and entire generations have grown up in conditions in which they heard nothing but adverse things about the other side and in which perpetual conflict was almost taken as granted as one of the given constants of life. In such a situation it is only to be expected that the possibilities of living together peacefully would be considered remote and least likely.

However consider a different situation in which, thanks to peace movements and peace efforts functioning with continuity, all the time efforts are being made to remove misconceptions about each other, to encourage people-to-people contact and friendship, to initiate discussions on how various divisions and differences can be removed, to highlight the many-sided benefits which people on both sides would have from the possibilities of durable and permanent peace. In such conditions the possibilities of many more people on both sides expressing their faith in possibilities of peace would be much higher and the number of people reporting a positive view of the people on the other side would also be higher.

In any region with a rather long history of conflict, many cruelties and killings are most likely to have taken place, perhaps equally on both sides, perhaps much more on one side compared to the other side, and it is very likely that as children have grown they have heard more exaggerated accounts of what the other side did. In such conditions the possibilities of youth growing up with feelings of revenge is always there. There is not just community acceptance of this, there may even be community encouragement and adulation of this. At the same time, there is high possibility of anyone talking of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness being regarded as someone who is betraying the community and his people. Hence in such conditions it is only too likely that in any studies, surveys or polls people would try to be very vocal about their hostility and mistrust regarding the other side, and at the same time anyone expressing or even harboring different ideas would come under pressure from community members.

However the situation would be quite different if all the time peace movements and campaigns, rooted in communities, keep emphasizing that the way ahead is not revenge but reconciliation. Such campaigns would bring home to people in many appealing ways the very high costs of ever-continuing enmity and, on the other hand, also the big welfare gains of peace particularly for the new upcoming generations. In such conditions the possibility of a much higher number of people on both sides expressing themselves in favor of reconciliation or even friendship would be considerably higher.

In brief, then, polls and surveys may be reflecting the mistrust and animosity that exists in the absence of continuing peace efforts, and the situation would be much more hopeful in conditions of significant and continuing peace efforts.

In many places not only are peace efforts missing but in addition efforts to spread hatred, mistrust and suspicions are ever-continuing. It is due to this that people who left to themselves would happily live together in harmony are no longer able to do so. It is a comment on the functioning of our troubled world that in many places, including conflict zones, the forces of hatred and revenge have been much more active than the forces of peace.

As someone interested in and devoted to inter-faith harmony, I have often visited villages where good indications of such harmony can be seen. One reason is that some voluntary organization or other group exists here which has been making continuing peace and harmony efforts. Elsewhere one can see a lot of conflict ad disharmony as the forces of hatred have been much more active here.

There have been examples in history where people of two different communities lived in harmony for centuries but when the forces of hatred became very active with all their mischief, they were at the throats of each other within a few years and started saying that they cannot live with each other.

It is important to emphasize that there is no such thing as ‘can’t live with each other’. As long as there is no mistrust and hatred all communities and people, whatever the cultural, religious, ethnic or language differences, can live with each other in peace. What is important to know is whether in any society the forces of hatred are much stronger than the forces of harmony. Then there will be trouble.

So instead of being too bothered by poll surveys or other negative news, let’s start on a very positive note with a firm belief in the inherent ability of various people to live in harmony with each other, and then strive to create conditions in which this ability can be best realized.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include When the Two Streams Met, Man over Machine, Earth without Borders and Protecting Earth for Children.   


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