Peace isn't just the absence of war
John Yemma is the editor of The Christian Science Monitor
Peacebuilding is 10,000 small, practical things. Because young men without jobs and too much time on their hands are easily coaxed into fighting, peace builders have to work on creating jobs. Schools and health clinics help war-battered families mend. Professionally trained lawyers, judges, and administrators instill confidence that the system is not rigged to favor the few. Utilities and roads foster a sense of progress. Free and fair elections encourage people to feel they are the actual owners of their nation.
One other ingredient in peacebuilding is needed – addressing a community’s spiritual needs. Religion is often central to conflict. In the northern tier of sub-Saharan Africa, Muslims are in conflict with Christians. In the Balkans, it is Islam vs. Orthodox Christianity. In South Asia, Hindus confront Muslims. In the Gulf, the divide is Sunni and Shiite. Not so long ago in Northern Ireland, it was Catholics against Protestants.
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Sure, each tradition has a penchant for excess – crusades, jihads, victimization, persecution. But each also has strands of forgiveness and tolerance. If there is a central truth amidst all these traditions, it has to be tolerance. People who work on peacebuilding look for aspects of different belief systems that emphasis that.