The article below was originally published by Rudaw on April 1, 2016
The time of talking is past, was the message from a forum held in Duhok, with participants complaining that all conferences held since 2003 on reconciliation did not prevent the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS).
“We have to do it together, and we have to do it ourselves,” was the mood at the International Forum on Recovery, Stabilization and Peace in Nineveh, that brought together activists, scholars, politicians and students at the recently opened American University of Duhok.
“Why do we need international organisations to build peace? We have to put words into actions,” as one of the participants, a young Sunni woman from Mosul, said.
She suggested to make a council to work on peace, at the same time calling “to take away the hatred from our hearts. If we do not apply the peace in ourselves, nothing happens. Look at all the hatred in the social media. ISIS might be my brother or friend; the criminal is all inside us. ISIS came, because of all of us. Let’s not put the blame on our neighbour.”
Seeking Lasting Peace
The conference tried to focus on practical steps towards a lasting peace after ISIS has been pushed from the Nineveh province and its capital Mosul.
In contrast to a recent conference on ‘Iraq after ISIS’ at the American University in Sulaimani (AUIS), politicians did not dominate the stage. Although the Nineveh Provincial Council (in exile) was present and its president made a speech, victims and stakeholders did most of the talking.
The audience reflected the province’s mix population with red Kurdish headdress and traditional Yezidi costumes next to Arab robes. Women wearing scarves sat next to unveiled friends, with colourful scarves dominating, and the black attire of strict Muslim women completely absent.
Although some of the talk reflected the pain of the victims and the need to share traumatic experiences inflicted by ISIS most of the participants tried to search for practical suggestions to find a better way to live together again once ISIS has been evicted.
With Iraqi and Kurdish military operations going on towards Mosul and the Americans building up airstrikes on mayor ISIS targets in the city, the need for a vision on how to restore ‘normal’ life after ISIS is becoming more and more urgent.
‘Weapons of Peace’
“Fighting is not only done by weapons, we have to spread the ideas of coexistence,” said Kai Brand-Jacobson, of the Department of Peace Operations (DPO) who led the forum, as one of the local and international organisations working on the Nineveh Path to Social Cohesion, Coexistence and Peace.
Which was somehow mirrored by Bashar Kiki, the Kurdish head of the Nineveh Provincial Council, who said: “We do not need weapons to make peace,” and praised the support of tribal chiefs, some of whom were present. “They broke the barrier of fear when they stood up against ISIS.”
Brand-Jacobson stated that countries that have not gone through a process of reconciliation, have a 91 percent chance of returning to war, while even if a badly implemented process was conducted, 64 percent never did.
Some of the main groups to involve in the process are women and youth. Although many women do not believe in peace anymore, disappointed by the realities of recurring wars, it was stressed that they do have a major role to play in making it, and leadership-training is one way to help them.
This has been illustrated by a project in the Iraqi town of Basra where women work on de-radicalisation young members of Shiite militias, convincing boys to go back to school. There was a call to set up a peace commission for Nineveh to clear away the debris of the war.
Youth Centers & Education
Plans were mentioned to set up youth centres for peace. An activist from the town of Zumar, liberated from ISIS over a year ago told how his peace group holds weekly sessions about peace in the schools.
There was clear consensus on the importance of education, with a call to change curriculums to make space for human rights and peace-education, or adding lessons outside regular classes. And to check all curriculums to make sure they are nowhere indirectly setting one group up against another.
The University of Duhok announced that it will soon take in students for the new study of Peace, based on curriculums of the same subject in 92 other countries.
Major attention was given to religion, one of the tools in ISIS hands. Schools should change the classes on Islam, to add other religions or just focus on human rights, and not teach religion to children under fourteen, demanded educators in one of the workshops.
And religious leaders were asked to change their calls for violence in their Friday speeches, to calls for peace and coexistence.
Even taxi drivers can help, as was heard in one of the workshops. By playing recitals of the Quran whilst driving they ignore that their car is supposed to be a general means of transport, for all citizens to be used. Making them realise this, is just one of the many ways needed to make Iraqis aware of the need for peaceful coexistence.[To read more visit Rudaw]