Why talking peace? Because there’s no peace process that can start, continue and thrive if it doesn’t involve words. So that is why on Monday night (8 September) in front of a packed audience at Shoreditch Village Hall in East London we kick-started our month-long Talking Peace Festival with a Peace Talks on ‘Peacebuilding with pittabread, punchlines and performing arts’.
Chaired by our Secretary General Dan Smith, we listened (and later joined in) to a conversation among our four panellists discussing the importance of the everyday in the process of building peace – things like the food we eat, the jokes we tell and the music we listen to. We also discussed the double-edged nature of these things. Words, for example, are vital for any successful peace process, but they can also be the cause of misunderstanding. And that is where the pitta bread, punch lines and performance arts comes into play. When words (in this example) are not working on their own, we can use other aspects of our everyday lives to find common ground on which to build.
“When you eat with people you form a bond with them,” explained food writer Claudia Roden, author of numerous books on Middle Eastern cuisine. “And when you have eaten with someone, you cannot betray them.”
However, food has also found itself at the centre of conflict. The most famous example being the ‘hummus wars’, which resulted in Lebanon and Israel settling their gastronomic differences in a battle for the largest plate of hummus – which some took more seriously than others.
James O’Brien, journalist and presenter at LBC Radio, shared with us his reflections on the importance of words in an industry that thrives on deliberately using provocative language. “The most interesting time is when you are not trying to be, but then end up upsetting people and tying yourself in knots. There is a narrative in this country at the moment where people feel like they are prevented from speaking their minds. People seem more worried about avoiding association than understanding the problem.”
This is where music can play an instrumental role (pardon the pun) in expressing difficult subjects – by sandwiching the irrational with the rational. Arieb Azhar, a Sufi folk musician from Pakistan, shared with us one of his experiences of using music (in this case his voice and guitar) to express his contrasting views to fellow cabin passengers during a 16-hour train journey. To cut a long story short, despite their differences the men parted ways with a new understanding of one another and as good friends.
Salman Siddiqui, Co-Chair of the MUJU Crew, which provides creative spaces for Muslims and Jews to collaborate in theatre, also shared with us his experiences. He explained the importance of playing in order to escape the norms of everyday life, and to interact with people first as humans and secondly as members of one ethnic group or another.
Left with much food for thought, the evening turned from words to a live music performance from the extremely talented Arieb. And what a treat it was!
We’ve got loads of other exciting events taking place this month as part of the Talking Peace Festival, including food, art, photography, comedy and technology.
Written by Sarah Mullin. Photo © Navin Goodur/International Alert