Building defences for peace

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE preamble to Unesco’s constitution contains these words of profound wisdom: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” The founding fathers of this organisation recognised the role of education, science and culture in promoting peace and harmony.

Yet the world has so far failed to reach these elusive goals. But is it too late to try to build the peace structures that statesmen of yore dreamed of 60 years ago?

The answer to this question came last Saturday when the Human Rights Education Programme, an NGO working for what its name unambiguously spells out, held the ground-breaking ceremony for the Children’s Museum for Peace and Human Rights (CMPHR) that it had been dreaming of for five years. Designed to provide space for children to get together and interact, the museum will be based on the precept that “education must be life-long and socially relevant”, to quote Zulfiqar Ali, the director of the HREP and general secretary of the museum.

Towards this end, the CMPHR plans to sow the seeds of peace (which is meaningless without human rights) in the mind of a child from an early age by using all the modern education methods that are universally recognised as being the key to the development of human personality. Thus there will be galleries putting together exhibits on, what the project’s brochure terms, diversity, nuclear (devastation?), understanding Karachi, children and peace and human rights. Additionally the museum would organise academic and cultural events, workshops, research and resource centres to make the child proactively involved in peace activities.

This is a move in the right direction for two simple reasons. First, change in behaviour and mindset is easier to bring about if it is started early in life. Secondly, the main cause of social disharmony is the absence of knowledge and understanding of the “other”. These basic truths, which are known to all but never consciously applied, were articulated in abundance, but in different ways, on Saturday afternoon at the ground-breaking ceremony.

Tasneem Siddiqui of the Khuda ki Basti fame and chairperson of CMPHR, who can well be described as a friend of the poor, pointed out that Karachi has become a divided city.

People living in one area are not aware of the life and problems of their compatriots in another area because there are no common spaces for the two to meet. Siddiqui spoke of the multi-tiered school system which has at one end the madressahs that look after the entire needs of their students but in the process produce graduates with a “closed mind” and at the other the elite schools providing good education but charging exorbitant fees which are not affordable for everyone.

Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, who performed the ground-breaking and whose son announced a hefty donation for the museum, presented the case for peace and the cause of the young very succinctly. He expressed his dismay at the death of the art of conversation. He feels that people are not networking enough and are ignorant about each other. That, according to him, has led to the fragmentation of societies. The prince who is famous for his youth-centric approach said that when we care for the young we show that we recognise the future.

The fact is that children and peace are closely linked as are children and war. Pakistan is a fragmented society and within its folds are two different worlds that are alienated from each other. One is the world of the rich and the privileged who enjoy all the luxuries they could dream of. The other is the world of the underclass, the deprived and the disadvantaged. These are alienated from each other as there is no interaction between them. As such there is no occasion for them to understand one another. Thus are sown the seeds of conflict.

If the “defences of peace” must be constructed in the minds of men, this process must begin when the man is still a child. Otherwise it becomes too late. If the lesson of love, humanism and peace is taught to a person in his childhood he learns it for life. In this respect Pakistan has failed its children.

They have been taught to hate and fight. The school textbooks spew out hatred and scorn for the “other” — these books are in use in the mainstream schools and not just the madressahs. War and violence are identified with heroism and valour.

One would recall the missiles which dotted our urban landscape a few years ago until they were mysteriously made to vanish. Our television channels screen violent images, so much so that there is no escape from the reality of war, conflict and brutality that have become an everyday feature. We let them absorb all this violence at the most impressionable period of their life and then we have the gall to expect them to grow up to be peace-loving, mild, humanistic and tolerant adults.

The peace museum is a project to be fully supported by each and every one of us as a duty. In fact there should be more of such museums all over the country so that children may learn to hate war and love peace. May the images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki make them detest the deadly weapons of mass destruction we have been glorifying since 1998 when our nuclear explosion made our mountains cry.

When children will see models of the life of an average Pakistani child in the katchi abadis they will begin to understand the rigours of poverty. And thus one hopes, they will learn the importance of social justice without which it is unfair to expect the hungry and the starving to show magnanimity and affection for the affluent who are inclined to be so selfish.