Communicating Peace: Organiser’s Introduction to IPRA Sydney 2010
TMS PEACE JOURNALISM, 14 Jun 2010
Sydney plays host, from July 6-10, to the biennial global conference of IPRA, the International Peace Research Association. The keynote speaker is Johan Galtung. Delegates can register for the whole conference or for one day.
Details here: www.iprasydney2010.org
Register and pay here: http://www.arts.usyd.edu.au/peace_conflict/news/ipra2010.shtml
Sydney is the biggest city to host IPRA since Rio de Janeiro in 1988. It’s also one of the world’s most multi-cultural cities, in terms of the languages spoken within its borders, and the nationalities represented among its population. To describe a metropolis as a ‘city of contrasts’ is a tourist cliché, of course, but for peace researchers coming to Australia, it takes on a special poignancy.
It’s a country of widening inequalities between rich and poor, and beset by a still-unresolved conflict with its Indigenous inhabitants, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The present government has vowed to ‘close the gap’ of life expectancy between Indigenous Australians and the rest, presently a shaming 17 years.
On other fronts, too, there are major gaps of action and perception – peacebuilding gaps, we might call them – that have seen Australia climb to 11th in the global league table of arms spenders, apparently on the dubious premise of a ‘threat’ from China, that risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. This despite proven public opposition to any further rises in the ‘defence’ budget.
Another well-known ‘disconnect’ separates the authorities from the people on the subject of Australia’s troop presence in Afghanistan. Opposed by consistent majorities in opinion polls, despite strict control over access for journalists and the flow of information reaching people back at home, the mission retains bipartisan support in parliament. It continues Australia’s record of having followed the United States into more of its wars than any other country.
Perspectives that emphasise the futility of force, in principle and in practice, apparently commend themselves to large numbers of Australians, but are almost entirely excluded from mainstream political and media discourse.
Then, this island continent is surrounded by smaller islands that are among the world’s poorest states, and also those most threatened by anthropogenic climate change. Here, there is greater discussion, at least, including by leaders in public, on the need to respond by cutting our emissions of greenhouse gases – currently one of the world’s highest per capita, much more if you count the CO2 produced when coal exported from Australia is burned by the purchasing countries. And yet, proposed measures to shrink our environmental footprint, already modest, have been deferred and scaled back.
Australia may be the country most in need, for these reasons, of the wisdom offered by the impressive three-volume series of collaborative research, Global Environmental and Human Security Handbook for the Anthropocene, with editors and contributors drawn from IPRA members on all continents. We are honoured to be hosting a launch event for this important work, as part of the conference fringe, and we will hear from some of its prime movers on the plenary platform as well.
Faced with the apparent unresponsiveness of institutional frameworks, it’s often left to the rich array of social movements in Sydney to take up the slack: to communicate peace. At the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies of the University of Sydney, teaching and research draw inspiration from our community engagement and our wealth of connections with peace and human rights activists: campaigners for peace and justice for the Palestinians, and the Tamil people of Sri Lanka; advocates for dialogue over the future of West Papua; opponents of war and militarism, and many more.
In common with peace researchers and peace activists around the world, we are often struggling with syndromes that colleagues, elsewhere in the social sciences, have named as a “crisis of elite representation” and a “crisis of political legitimacy”.
We can no longer conduct peace research, if we ever did, as if drawing up considered recommendations to the incumbents of high office, confident that we will be listened to, and the advice weighed as an influence on decision-making. Implicit in the agenda for this conference, Communicating Peace, is that our insights must arise from, and inform, engagement on a wide range of fronts for action if they are to be successfully brought to bear on the course of events in conflict.
So, we will hear from prominent activists such as Patrick Dodson, often credited as the ‘father of reconciliation’ in Australia, and the 2008 winner of the Sydney Peace Prize, bestowed by our sister organisation, the Sydney Peace Foundation.
As well as distinguished senior researchers such as Johan Galtung, Oliver Richmond, Ursula Oswald Spring and George Kent, our plenary platform will be shared by advocates from Guam (LisaLinda Natividad); West Papua (John Ondawame) and Palestine (Samah Sabawi), and include experiential testimony by survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (Junko Morimoto) and the nuclear test-blasts in the Australian ‘outback’ (Yami Lester).
We will even take our message, calling for more peace journalism, to the headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which persistently fails in its duty to reflect a broad range of views when it comes to any aspect of the ‘security’ agenda. Our demonstration there, on the morning of Conference Friday, will raise the alarm over the steady erosion of an important democratic safeguard, that generally passes unremarked.
Our lively Conference Fringe program features both the launch events for important books, and the screening of films showcasing themes such as grassroots development work in Afghanistan; frontline peace activism in Palestine and citizen ceasefire monitoring in the Philippines.
We will be entertained by music and dance from members of Sydney’s Tamil community, and talented young artists from Contact Inc., a multi-cultural youth group from Brisbane. As we register for the conference, we can view inspiring artwork by young people and adults from the besieged Palestinian territory of Gaza. And our last-night social event will be a benefit gig, featuring local Indigenous hip-hop acts, for Stop the Intervention Coalition Sydney (STICS).
STICS is campaigning against the government’s military and bureaucratic ‘Intervention’ in Australia’s Northern Territory, an initiative that has seen our Race Discrimination Act suspended. It’s worth quoting Professor James Anaya, the special rapporteur on Indigenous rights sent in by the UN, who said:
“These measures overtly discriminate against Aboriginal peoples. They infringe their right of self-determination and stigmatise already stigmatised communities”. Significantly, he identified them as a breach of legally binding undertakings Australia has given to the international community: “The emergency response is incompatible with Australia’s obligations under the convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination”.
Our city turns an exceptionally beautiful face to the world. To the natural splendour of its beaches, coves and wooded hillsides is added some of the greatest human artefacts of the modern era: the Opera House and bridge, and the harbour city view they frame. The beauty is more than skin-deep – peace and social justice are understood and cherished by many of the peoples who have come to Sydney, and made it the multi-cultural metropolis we see today. But there is also an inheritance from the colonial past, which endures in continuing injustice at home and militarism abroad. A city of contrasts, indeed.
Communicating peace is a perennial challenge. There are rich resources to draw upon, and plentiful causes to join. Enjoy your time in Sydney, and renew your own personal readiness for the struggles ahead. We need you!
Associate Professor Jake Lynch is Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney. He chairs the Organising Committee of IPRA Sydney 2010.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 Jun 2010.
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