Waking up this morning (Friday 15th March 2019), many of us share in the horror unfolding in Christchurch, New Zealand. People coming together to practice their faith have had their lives taken away or changed forever by the murderous acts of a few individuals who believe that extreme violence against their fellow human beings is justified. To reflect on the words of New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, it is the darkest of days.
Violent conflict is an ever present reality. In my job, as Chief Executive of the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that stands for peace and is a leading specialist in the prevention, resolution and response to violent conflict, I receive daily reports of terrorism incidents around the world.
A global issue
I meet many people affected by such acts. Last week I was in Madrid, my visit coinciding with the 15th anniversary of the attacks on that city. I met with the Director and Deputy Director General at the Support to Victims of Terrorism unit at the Spanish Ministry of Interior. It was a privilege to attend the opening of an exhibition “Vivir sin miedo. Vivir con memoria”, by the Asociación de Víctimas del Terrorismo, translated as Living without fear / Living with memory.
Members of my team traveled to Brussels with British survivors of incidents in Paris, London Westminster and Manchester. They stood in solidarity with our European friends as the EU commemorated the annual day of remembrance for victims of terrorism. This week, I was a guest of the Portugese Security and Intelligence Services in Lisbon alongside Police from Finland (Turku 2017), France (Paris 2015) and emergency responders (Barcelona 2017). I was alongside a mother who lost her son to the warped ideologies of Daesh.
Next week, I will visit Northern Ireland to promote continued reconciliation on our islands and attend commemorations of anniversaries including the Warrington bombing and the London Westminster attack. Like the Founders of the Peace Foundation, Colin and Wendy Parry, everyone I met, from far and wide, has the same aim. Nobody should ever go through this sort of event again and that we must work to end violent conflict.
Violence sets the tone for hatred
Those who use violence, as we’ve seen in Christchurch this morning, do so to create division, hatred, fear and terror. They use very stark, brutal and horrific methods to do this and they do so to create a reaction. Their methods and communication is binary. It is about ‘us and ‘them’ and about creating ‘the other’ – it sets people apart, drives division and sets the tone for hatred. The vast majority of people are immune to this, but our media and politicians are not, and often their response is in rhetoric and simplistic solutions driven by ‘knee-jerk’ and emotional reactions.
Already today, in response to the events in Christchurch, there are numerous people ‘parachuting in’ with unchecked, and at time, odious opinion. I have heard and seen some highly misguided and woeful statements from so called experts, ‘opinion-formers’ and commentators. Against this background, and in contrast, we will start to see people coming together in solidarity and in search of answers and wanting to stand together and support those affected.
A complex problem that does not respond to binary solutions
So, what can we do today to try and stop this? Our learning at the Peace Foundation is that violent extremism is a complex problem and does not respond to binary solutions. It is a complexity that modern society is not well placed to fix as our politics and media are driven by trying to turn everything into being ‘great’ or ‘bad,’ ‘yes’ or no,’ and, in the UK, the ‘ayes’ and the ‘noes’ have it. The underlying causes that lead to hate, extreme ideologies and people who perpetrate violence, play on that binary notion.
To stop this we have to tackle the complex issues. We can make a start by recognising and accepting that this is a societal problem, not one that Governments can fix. It needs communities, business and commerce, civil society to come together in solidarity and to take action. There are solutions, such as helping people develop their ability to think critically to help them understand the consequences of their actions, promoting the skills people need to learn to operate in the 21st century.
We are global citizens
We are all individuals, but we are also a part of a society that is not based on nationalities and has us being part of the bigger whole, that is global citizens. Having respect for diversity is vital, as is driving out fear of those who are different. We need to adopt the United Nation’s global goals and implementing them in all we do. It is about embracing complexity and then dealing with it.
Today, we must all be global citizens and stand together with the people in Christchurch, New Zealand. Terrorism has no geographical boundaries and it has reached far across our globe. Technology allow us to do that as well, and I will be writing on behalf of the Peace Foundation to the Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae the New Zealand High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and to the British Embassy in Auckland to offer our support and advice. It also strengthens our commitment at the Peace Foundation to continue our work and to persuade every sector: public, private and civil, to support our efforts and join us as we strive for peace.
Written by NICK TAYLOR, CEO Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation