Months after the Gulf War ushered in a “New World Order,” weeks after the triumph of non-violence over a reactionary coup in the Soviet Union, and simultaneous with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, 265 activists from 25 countries gathered for the International Peace Bureau conference in Toronto. The conference cleared away the fog of media misinformation about these momentous events and connected activists working on similar issues around the world.
In keeping with the conference theme of Resistance and Reconciliation, accounts or real, lived resistance took precedence over abstract analysis. Karen Ridd spoke passionately about the near miraculous power of non-violence (see her keynote speech, included in this issue) and Mubarak Awad, initiator of the intifada, reasserted the potential of all people, however violent, to embrace non-violence (see Mubarak box). The speakers night at OISE, which drew a satisfying 400 people, featured peace activists from Ireland (see Adi Roche box), England, Yugoslavia, Palestine and Zimbabwe. Mindful that non-violence is at all times a choice, and a difficult one, organizers included on the panel a speaker from the armed resistance in El Salvador.
A hastily-assembled workshop on Yugoslavia brought together representatives from all warring sides. One thing they agreed on was that the Communist reign had, by suppressing and manipulating national differences, laid the groundworks for the present troubles. Marko Hren, highly respected activist from the Culture of Non-Violence group in Slovenia, suggested that conflict resolution and reconciliation projects be undertaken in Yugoslavia. The general assembly later endorsed this resolution. As a result of the workshop, a roundtable was formed in Toronto aiming to build a consensus which could have influence in Yugoslavia.
Representatives from Somalia, also war-torn, and Zimbabwe, em-broiled in the conflicts of its neighbour South Africa, got less attention but added an important element to the conference. A large delegation from Japan was also present, but somewhat marginalized in the proceedings. Workshops on Latin America, Development, and Racism, did however give third world issues increased importance. At the racism workshop Seth Klein, formerly of the SAGE tour of high schools, urged activists to “reach beyond your insulated white middle class peace movement and join local movements against poverty and racism.”
The workshop on women and militarism added an original touch to the conference-they urged that sex-trade workers be included in consultations about conversion of military installations. Although unusual, the resolution captured the spirit of the conference-a willingness to tread bravely into the thorniest of issues.
Some of the peace innovators from around the world are profiled here.
“When I went to talk at a boys’ school during the Gulf War the students met me with hostile silence, except for a few insults” recalls Adi Roche, the dynamic peace educator and head of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She decided to stop going to boys’ schools. “The girls are generally much easier to work with. They get very excited and involved. They always ask constructive questions.”
Adi Roche plants the seed of a student peace group in Ireland during a classroom lecture, then leaves an organizing kit and tells interested students to find a supportive teacher to oversee them. Once the group starts, it writes frequently to the peace office and receives the peace newsletter. Adi visits the nearby groups twice a year.
“I start off by showing them peace symbols and telling them where they came from. I like to get them thinking and working creatively,” says Adi. Students in her groups create murals, tapestries, sculptures, and books. During the Gulf War they petitioned writers, rather than politicians, to oppose the war.
Her talk at OISE Auditorium covered a vast array of the Irish peace movement’s achievements, from turning away nuclear submarines with nonviolent civil disobedience to successfully resisting both nuclear power and uranium mining.
A photo-journalist, Elaine Brière of British Columbia first discovered the tribal people of East Timor while on a photo assignment. She was inspired by the “seamless quality” of their culture, whose pace is slow and sensuous in contrast to our frenzied and fragmented lives. She has since devoted herself to protecting them from the genocidal tactics of Indonesia’s military rulers. At the conference she and Carmel Budiardjo of England laid groundwork for a speaking tour of Canadian Universities. Many Canadian businesses and Universities have heavy investments in Indonesia.
Brian Fraser, of the Metals and Engineering Union in Australia, spoke of his union’s difficult choice not to tend to the ships departing for the Gulf War. Many within his and other unions took a lot of convincing, but the unions in Australia emerged in the forefront of the Anti-War resistance.
Fraser was glad to hear the perspectives of native Canadian leaders Danny Beaton and John Mohawk—it gave him a new perspective on the similar situation of native Australians.
Nur Nassib, now living in Helsinki but originally from Somalia, used his free time in Toronto to try to convince the many Somalian refugees here “not to support, either financially or ideologically, the war in Somalia.” He found discussions with Marko Hren particularly rewarding because Somalia, like Yugoslavia, erupted into conflict when the communist system collapsed. Nassib was very interested in the indigenous workshop, because he feels that a return to indigenous traditions in Somalia would take the emphasis off tribal rivalries, which have only become acute since colonization.
“It would be a disaster for all Palestinians to turn to nonviolence,” said Mubarak Awad, much to the shock of our small discussion group. To Mubarak the act of freely choosing nonviolence is essential. In any case, Mubarak could not imagine a situation of conflict where violence is entirely eradicated.
Having worked with violent children, Mubarak believes in people’s capacity to see that violence is not serving them well.” No influence really determines how nonviolent a person can be, potentially,” said Mubarak, speaking of the violence associated with fundamentalism. In his public speeches he argued that there is a sympathy between religions, and only when they ally with the state do they start to fight one another.
“Palestinians have turned to fundamentalism because nationalism did not work” said Mubarak. He does not however feel that it will replace the PLO. “The PLO and Palestinians are one” he said repeatedly, adding “the PLO has $12 billion, it will not disappear just like that.”
When probed, Mubarak expressed distaste for the fundamentalists’ attitudes to women. “I get angry as a Palestinian to see a veil on a woman. I get so angry. And I say, she doesn’t deserve that.” There has been a backlash against the power that women gained through their active role in the intifada, said Mubarak. “When people see women in a position of leadership, and telling men even what to do, there is another group that says we have to hide those women, “‘I would not allow my wife, I would not let her do those things’.” Women do continue to take a part in politics but “If you want as a woman to be politically active then there are consequences. The consequence is that you might not get a husband.”