Wednesday, May 09, 2007
"You Don't Make Peace with your Friends, You Make Peace with your Enemies"
Peace in Northern Ireland finally seems to be a reality, and a very welcome one at that. On NPR program The World, Lisa Mullens had an thoughtful talk with the Boston Globe's Kevin Cullen, who passed on the intriguing line above.
For more background on the developments in Northern Ireland, here's short pieces from NPR shows All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and a short segment from the same episode of The World. Or, if you prefer, here's a brief AFP article.
Cullen talks about the similarities between South Africa near the end of apartheid and Northern Ireland, and how leaders from Ireland met with South Africans to discuss social and political dynamics. He speaks of talking with Mac Maharaj, who he describes as "the last ANC [African National Congress] fighter to give up." Cullen asked Maharaj about the most important thing he told leaders from Northern Ireland. Maharaj said, "It sounds so simple, it sounds silly, but it really is: You don't make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies, and the only way you end a conflict is to accept that premise."
In the case of Northern Ireland, Protestant Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, once intractable foes, finally were willing to meet and come to an agreement. Peace is never possible without both parties, or most parties, willing to consider it. Someone has to offer an olive branch and someone has to accept it. Most of all, they all need to talk. Reporter Rob Gifford states in the Morning Edition piece that previous accords had failed because the moderates on either side could come to an agreement, but influential leaders of groups with more extreme positions would undermine them.
As to other conflicts in the world, it's no secret, except apparently to the present American administration, that the no-diplomacy "silent treatment" school of foreign policy doesn't work — that is, if peace is the goal. Peace requires a different vocabulary than belligerence, but certainly requires a willingness to speak in the first place, and more importantly, to listen. As many folks have pointed out, we spoke with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. Cullen also talks about "making a different history" to get past bad blood. Generally, average citizens tire of conflicts long before their leaders, because they most feel the effects and live the cost. Sadly, especially when it comes to peace, our political leaders are often not our moral leaders. The wisest among us (who I would argue realize that violence is not the first or best solution) are often not calling the shots. It's our duty as citizens not only to elect better politicians, but also to step into the vacuum and provide that leadership ourselves. Here's to Ireland becoming a positive example for the rest of the world.
(This post was written for The Peace Tree. Also cross-posted at The Blue Herald.)