Educating Youth in Civic Engagement for a Culture of Peace in the Middle East
The inclusion of young people in peacebuilding initiatives adds both vibrancy and inventiveness to peacebuilding efforts. As a volunteer myself, I believe time has only proven to me that involving youth brings creative energy and active potential for the transformation of violent conflict across the globe. Moreover, it also brings the belief that education is a space for cultivating cultures of both peace and war. It renders peace educators and practitioners responsible for teaching youth about values, skills, and behaviors conducive to promoting global harmony and social justice. In discourse, peace is broadly described as the absence of physical and structural violence, and the presence of justice. In an effort to develop global citizenship as well as an understanding of the notion of peace, we as students need to be exposed to the main causes of conflict, to international humanitarian and human rights laws, to alternate structures of security, as well as to skills for managing all forms of conflict without the resort to violence as an option.
In the literature on Peace Education, discourse divides peace education into five categories: international education, development education, environmental education, human rights education, and conflict resolution education. On nurturing the culture of peace, Sommerfelt and Vambheim state that peace requires citizens to constrain their aggression, exhibit cooperative behavior, and resolve conflicts without violence.
In practice, peace education is the attempt to construct universal values and behaviors where a culture of peace is founded in every individual. It includes the comprehension of non-violent conflict resolution skills.
Despite the fact that discourse elaborates upon the definition of civic engagement differently, I see civic education as the focus upon participation in evolving shifts through the advancement of economic, ecological, social and political conditions. It is seen as the ability of young people to contribute to instilling this reality through informing, reforming, and building a society which will contribute to the promotion of justice and inclusiveness, and this is not only important for young people’s own personal growth, but also for the establishment of a strong and involved up-and-coming generation of activists and people willing to challenge the social constraints that otherwise act as barriers around what we know, and what we know we can do.
A little bit of history is important in understanding this – especially in understanding the evolution of the notions of inclusivity and engagement in society. The 1995 Program of Action of the World Summit for Social Development defines an inclusive society as a “society for all in which every individual, each with rights and responsibilities, has an active role to play.” This type of community is rooted in the fundamental and inherent values of equity, equality, social justice, human rights and freedoms, and in the principles of embracing and accepting diversity. This community is also equipped with the fitting apparatuses which empower its citizens to actively participate in the decisions which have direct influence on the lives they lead, and also empowers them to ultimately shape the future they all share. The Summit also stresses that social inclusion is one of the major catalysts and major goals of social development – an area which, in my modest opinion, cannot exist without youth and the young energy they bring. Current international negotiations, similar to those within the framework of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), and ongoing process of formulating the post-2015 international development agenda, emphasize that there is an even stronger need for inclusion, active participation and equity in the international community.
After definitions are tackled, it is easy to make a link between civil society and the political space between the individual and his/her government. Often enough as young people we both fill and feel the space the most. It is a space where citizens and organizations are able to cooperate and interact independent of the government, family, as well as the private sector. Civil society organizations may encompass non-governmental organizations (NGOs), advocacy groups, charity groups, faith-based organizations, civic education organizations, business or professional associations, and may even include community groups, among others. The organizations in question exemplify active citizenship and reflect the values of those they represent. This is generally based upon cultural, ethical, political, among other values. The organizations serve as the connection between the state and individual, and assist him/her in influencing and monitoring government decisions; mobilizing and rallying the general public through educating them about the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities they have to influence government policies and push for reform. They also facilitate dialogue among different groups, and social reconciliation.
It is no secret that educators have found that conventional educational methods such as lecturing and test-taking do not live up to their envisioned social outcomes. They have found this to be the case in almost every academic field of study, and that is essentially what peace education is about. Schools and nations intend to construct democracy, globalization, and awareness about community interdependence, yet in their approach to do so, educators repeatedly resort to tactics such as obedience-drilling, secrecy, and competitiveness which redirects more fully towards the very ideologies the school system intends to go beyond.
In the areas of peacebuilding, and throughout my personal training development, I have witnessed the need for education to consider this contradiction. With this awareness at the base of the educational methods, cooperation, respect, the importance of diversity and empathy, are taught through cooperative games, participatory and democratic pedagogy, and creative conflict resolution activities which stress upon peaceful coexistence, civic engagement, and awareness about larger issues – environmental, societal, economic, political, or other. With the educational system developing just like any other concept, and with the international community aware of its gaps and obstacles, educators have sought to cultivate a culture of peace for years. The United Nations, as an initiator, has endorsed dialogue upon this reality on the international scene in a number of manners, and through several initiatives.
The United Nations General Assembly passed the Declaration and Integrated Framework of Education for Peace, Human Rights and Democracy in 1995, and the Declaration on a Culture of Peace in 1998, and went on to declare the year 2000, the ‘International Year for a Culture of Peace’. The period between 2001 and 2010 was also designated the ‘UN International Decade on Education for Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World.’ The 1995 and 1998 resolutions each comprise education on knowledge, values, skills, and behavior which supports peaceful societies and eliminate the war system. The UN also instilled peace education into its educational bodies: UNESCO, UNU, and UPEACE, which currently act as a model for mainstreaming peace education across academic institutions, local and international organizations and agencies.
Furthermore, the Declaration and Integrated Framework of Education for Peace (1995) suggests that education for peace must be trans-disciplinary and incorporated into all learning spaces. Education for peace is not restricted to one classroom or one subject matter. This type of education should act as a catalyst for the further integration of youth into the community, for the development of their awareness about their roles within the international and local systems, and for the channeling of this energy towards issues, environmental or others, which concern the international community as well as its local counterparts. The Declaration further elaborates that the learning space should foster intercultural and international dialogue, awareness of national and global systems of governance, respect for all forms of life, and an adherence to non-violence.
Moreover, education for peace emphasizes upon the need to develop empathy, and nurtures students who are committed to democratic participation and non-violence. Education for peace thus, pedagogically accentuates tolerance, respect, equality, empathy, compassion, sensitivity, communication, listening, inclusiveness of all forms of life, and finally, awareness of history and peace movements.
Now, to wrap up my reflection, I believe that the limitations of particular resources has never hindered the philosophy of civic engagement and cooperation on the local and the international levels from offering a way to actively tackle conflict prevention instead of continuing to pre-occupy ourselves with “inevitable” resource conflicts. Moreover, the initial step in managing the inter-relationships between security and sustainable development is to expand our vision. Today more than any other time in history, it is becoming more and more evident that conflicts arise not only from political and military threats to national sovereignty, but also from environmental degradation and the pre-emption of development options.
The idea of national sovereignty has been fundamentally altered by international interdependence within the realm of economics, environment and security. The ‘global commons’ may not be managed from any national center.
Today, there are multiple institutional systems to foster bilateral and regional cooperation. Some of the most challenging obstacles require cooperation among nations enjoying different systems of government, or even subject to antagonistic relations. Cooperation among developing countries has often been made difficult by poor communications, and by preventing local groups, youth, and civil society from directly engaging with the problem, as well as from actively participating in formulating solutions. It is not only our role as young people to do so, but also our responsibility as those who will inherit the world, to work on challenging the systems in place with a philosophy of inclusiveness – a matter, in my modest opinion once more, that the world is in dire need of.
This reflection article is part of a larger research paper entitled: Educating Youth towards Civic Engagement for a Culture of Peace and Environmentalism in the Middle East presented by Jasmin Lilian Diab at the First National Conference on Media, Peace and Environment in 2016.
This reflection piece is part of the Young Writers and Artists of NET-MED Youth initiative.
Jasmin Lilian Diab is 24. She holds a B.A. in International Affairs and Diplomacy from Notre Dame University (NDU) - Louaize in Lebanon where she is currently pursuing her M.A. in International Law. Jasmin worked as Office Manager and Research/Project Assistant at the Lebanese Emigration Research Center at the Faculty of Law and Political Science at NDU. She also worked as Operations Manager and Youth Coordinator at the Lebanon Dialogue Initiative, as well as Research Assistant and Assistant Project Manager at the Lebanese Development Network. Jasmin is a former Direct Dialogue Team Leader at Greenpeace International and is currently a Research Affiliate at the Middle East Institute for Research and Strategic Studies. Her work and research predominantly revolve around dialogue, conflict studies, refugee rights and migration law. Jasmin was a member of NET-MED Youth in Lebanon.
Activities building skills among youth organizations and young journalists; to enhance youth representation in media and promote freedom of expression, media and information literacy and youth-generated media content.
Activities joining youth organizations, employment experts and different national stakeholders to engage in dialogue and work together on unemployment solutions and skills needs.
Activities empowering youth to participate in the communal and national development, revision and implementation of national youth strategies and public policies.