World Peace Day, which is marked every year on September 21, has just passed. The chance to do some soul-searching with regards to the state of peace on our planet is as important as ever before.
For all the relative calmness and progress of the second half of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st, we still see a world that is hurting due to increased fragility that is spreading at the pace of our fast-evolving planet. The battlefields of today are everywhere — they are not defined by geography. The battlefields of today are on our streets, in our hospitals, in our schools, in our places of worship. There may not be a new world war, but we are still a world at war. Just a cursory glance at the headlines shows us that we are in a slightly poorer state than the year before.
So, on top of the protracted crises in places like Syria and Yemen, we have seen new signs for violent conflict surfacing. From Sri Lanka and the Middle East oil crisis to the situation in Kashmir, it is clear that conflict remains and the propensity for violence is particularly acute as tensions manifest themselves into deep sociopolitical cleavages.
In addition, there are new risks and challenges that will make violent conflict more inevitable. For example, a newly-released report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) points to the growing threat of climate change to vulnerable communities and its humanitarian consequences. In reading this report, it is clear that the implications for climate change will affect the drivers of violent conflict, and that the future of peace is tied in with being climate-smart and working on climate adaptation that prioritizes the poorest and most vulnerable.
Striking for the Climate
In this context, World Peace Day 2019 came at an opportune moment, buttressing the international climate strikes that took place before the Global Climate Summit on September 21-23. Ironically, World Peace Day appears as an intergenerational bridge between the youth and the elderly in this debate, and perhaps this is where a revamp of the day should be.
Globally, the number of young people is on the rise. We cannot ignore the fact that, in many parts of the world, the majority of people are under 30. The youth are not just the future as the cliché goes, they are the present. This means they need to be included and embedded in processes taking place now, not as token representations but with agency and influence. And it’s not like they don’t want that engagement. The movement on climate change is a testimony to this.
Despite the rise of populist movements that focus on differences, the climate change movement paints young people as wanting to bridge differences — particularly with young people having a greater commitment to doing something to contribute to their societies and their world. There is anger among our youth, impatient with the lack of progress being made on tackling this and also frustrated by being shut out.
So, there is much to reflect on around reigniting young people who are passionate about climate change to rediscover the spark that has been lost in the world: of empathy, sympathy and compassion.
As a bridge between the climate strikes and the climate summit, the annual World Peace Day must shine a light on how the youth are part of and can take the lead in building peace in our societies. Young people are agents for peace, engaged in transforming the structures and institutions that hinder the socioeconomic and political well-being of those living in fragile and conflict-affected communities.
Engaging Young People
So, we need to do more to invest and engage with them, but this requires a holistic approach. First, though, we need to remove the prejudice that many of us have when it comes to engaging young people. We must stop thinking they are apolitical and more interested in following the latest installment of a reality-TV show than in engaging with the serious questions of the world around them. We should channel their enthusiasm to express and get involved.
Yet, at the same time, we must be honest about this approach. We need to give young people the space to be innovative and shape or rethink new models for the communities and societies in which they live — perhaps outside the globalized economic and “social” system they will inherit from other generations. In doing this, we have to answer some hard questions about whether we are ready for that and what it will take for each of us to work together toward a fairer world for everyone. In short, we have to be prepared for a hard shift in how we work and engage.
The youth can no longer be “represented.” They have to be mainstreamed, included, nurtured, listened to, consulted and worked in partnership with. It is about understanding how young people can build peace; how they build an environment where people can pursue conflicts without violence and harm to themselves or others; and how they promote the values of equity, fairness, inclusion and respect for human dignity — and with that the importance of a relationship with Mother Earth.
In the face of the current global challenges with the multitude of conflicts we are facing, this year’s World Peace Day must lead to new solutions and new agents that challenge exclusion based on difference.
True inclusivity can only be obtained when we carefully position all elements to create a compelling, cosmopolitan mosaic. There is a need to remain committed to engineering the software needed to work effectively in a range of situations. This will never be easy, but it remains vitally important. To quote Kwame Anthony Appiah, it will involve creating the very “ideas and institutions that will allow us to live together as the global tribe we have become.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.