“An opportunity for the world to pause, reflect and consider how best to break the vicious cycle of violence that conflict creates”: International Peace Day was created in 1981 for this very purpose. With U.S. military intervention in Syria presently averted but still not out of the question, observing this year’s Peace Day is all the more pressing.
It is not enough to teach children how to read, write and count. Education has to cultivate mutual respect for others and the world in which we live, and help people forge more just, inclusive and peaceful societies.
To achieve this goal, Ban calls for peace education programs, for protecting students and teachers from conflict, for assistance to rebuild schools destroyed by war and for measures to ” ensure all girls and boys have access to a quality education that includes learning about resolving and preventing conflicts.”
Ban’s words resonate amid ongoing reports about the thousands of refugees from the war in Syria. Of the many children who have ended up in refugee camps in countries including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, few are receiving any kind of schooling and many are speaking of them as a “lost generation.” More than 100,000 have been killed in the Syrian conflict since March of 2011.
There is a pressing need to teach about “resolving and preventing conflicts,” as more than underscored by this partial list of wars in the past ten years:
1. Somali Civil War (1991-present)
The Somali government was felled by a clan-based armed opposition groups in 1991 and the country has been at war ever since. A U.N.-led peacekeeping initiative in the 1990s was ultimately unsuccessful. An interim federal government, the Transitional Federal Government, was established in 2004 but the power vacuum has given rise to radical groups, including Al-Shabaab.
2. War in Darfur (2003 – present)
The ongoing conflict in Darfur began in February of 2003 when rebel groups (the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and Justice and Equality Movement) accused the Sudan government of marginalizing the country’s non-Arab population and rose up in arms against it. Casualties are estimated at several hundred thousand, with many starving after being forced to migrate and being displaced from their homes.
3. Iraq War (2003-2011)
U.S. forces invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, on the grounds that the country allegedly possessed weapons of massed destruction. Americans remained until December of 2011 to fight an insurgency against the U.S. occupation and the newly formed Iraqi government. Bombings and other attacks including some this past weekend continue to take thousands of lives.
4. Lebanon War (2003-2006)
The main opponents of this 34-day military conflict in Lebanon, northern Israel and the Golan Heights were Hezbollah paramilitary forces and the Israeli military. The war ended when Israel stopped its naval blockade of Lebanon. Some 1,300 Lebanese and 165 Israelis died in the conflict and more than a million residents of both countries were displaced.
5. Mexican Drug War (2006 – present)
The Mexican government continues to fight an armed conflict against rival drug cartels, in an effort to put down drug-related violence. An estimate 60,000 — some say more than 100,000 — have died since 2006.
6. Tuareg Rebellion (2007-2009)
The Tuareg are a formerly nomadic people, some of whom now live in the Sahara desert regions of northern Mali and Niger; they have been revolting against the governments of these countries in since 1916. Both Algeria and Libya sought to broker peace deals to bring the 2007-2009 rebellion to an end.
7. Gaza War (2008-2009)
Starting on December 27, 2008, Israel and Palestinian militants fought for three weeks in the Gaza Strip. Israel said that it sought to end rockets being fired into its borders and to halt the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip. In the war, Israeli forces assaulted the cities of Gaza, Khan Yunis and Rafah and Palestinian groups fired rockets. Up to 1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.
8. South Yemen Insurgency (2009 – ongoing)
North Yemen and South Yemen were separate countries until they were united in 1990. On April 28, 2009, massive demonstrations in most of the major towns in southern Yemen occurred, after a prominent southern Islamist leader Tariq al-Fadhli joined the secessionist South Yemen Movement. The conflict has continued, with some protests becoming violent. The Yemeni government has at times linked the insurgency to Islamist groups.
9. Libyan Civil War (2011)
Also known as the Libyan Revolution, this armed conflict that led to the ouster of long-time dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi began in February in the coastal city of Benghazi. Over the next several months, rebel forces defeated those loyal to Gaddafi, taking the capitol of Tripoli in August of 2011. While a central government, the National Transitional Council, was established in September of that year, rival militias still control parts of the country.
10. Northern Mali Conflict (2012-2013)
In January of 2012, a number of insurgent groups rose against the government of Mali, which had been regarded as an example of a stable democratic government in Africa. President Amadou Toumani Touré was ousted in a coup d’état in March. With insurgents, including Islamists and some from the Tuareg people, having taken control over northern Mali, the newly formed Mali government asked France to send in military help. On February 8, the Malian military (backed by foreign troops) retook northern Mali. A peace deal between the Tuaregs and the government was signed in June of this year.
The phrase “give peace a chance” is the title of a song written by John Lennon and released in 1969. More than four decades later, the need to do just this remains as much as ever. How can we teach today’s students to, in the words of Ban Ki-moon, create a “more just, inclusive and peaceful” world?
Photos of soldier/peace sign, Iraq, Libya from Wikimedia CommonsPhoto Credit: Terry Mitchell, Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Islamist_fighters_in_northern_Mali.PNG, Photo Credit: International Solidarity Movement, Photo Credit: Magharebia, Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons