Peace in the 21st Century: Sanam Anderlini

Videography: Jean-Pierre Larroque, Interviewed by : Andrea Jovanovic

Is the idea of peace in the 21st century an idealistic vision or an achievable goal?

OEF recently asked that question to notable thinkers who research trends in violent conflict and other key drivers affecting global stability. Their responses are captured in the series, Peace in the 21st Century. In this video, Sanam Anderlini discusses how we can elevate the voice of an often silent majority of the population that actually wants peace through non-violent change. Read the full transcript from the interview below.

Sanam Anderlini:

If we think of what the other options are, it's pretty dire and pretty irresponsible for us not to be striving for peace in the 21st century. I also think of it in terms of the fact that so little attention and resources and serious political will has gone into the idea of world peace. I mean, beyond the end of World War II in the last, let's say 20-30 years, there's a cynicism around this. If we push that aside and really focused and put attention and resources and the leverage that we need behind it ... the possibilities are endless. So I don't see why we shouldn't be striving for that.

The way I'd like to look at it is to look across the different regions in the world and try to understand where we have ongoing conflict, where's there's a potential for conflict, either because there has been conflict in the past or there's the potential for new conflict now, and really go in with all the lessons that we should have learned from other places in terms of "What does it mean to create safe places for political dialogue that is inclusive of the multitude of voices?" How do we bring in the voice of often the silent majority of the population that actually wants peace, and wants a non-violent change? So it's not that they don't want change per se, but they don't want it through violence. How do they diminish the role and influence of those who are willing to use violence to get to their ends?

The other thing is looking at the question of which countries are perpetrating war? That puts the mirror back here in the US in terms of what is the role of the US in the world- whether we want to call it the policemen of the world, but actually it tends not to be a neutral arbitrary, it takes sides. I think if we could see the US shifting its approach and taking a more human security, human rights-centric perspective, it would make an enormous difference.

It would be amazing to see if the US would be willing to be the Norway of the world; in terms of the way that Norway is perceived and what Norway is doing today. That would change everything right now.

I think that, as I said, the silent majority that want peace, that live in peace, regardless of what's happening around them; they are the ones we take for granted. My own work has really been around the women who emerge as actors and have rolled up their sleeves on the ground. Whether it's humanitarian work or peacemaking work, or peacebuilding work; those voices need to be at the table. The way that I see it is that the paradigm has shifted from interstate to internal conflict. We didn't used to talk to armed rebel groups in the past. Now we do. But they're a new set of actors. We have to realize there are other actors. These other actors are non-state, but unarmed actors. We have the non-state armed actors, now we have to move to the non-state unarmed actors.

So women are a group that emerges and organizes. I think youth - I'm now working with a network in Syria, and they're now focusing on young people, and they're extraordinary in terms of what they want. Not only are their classmates and themselves the first ones to be affected as young men, but it's also their future that's at risk. I think if we can draw their voices in and harness that potential for positive change, it's extraordinary what we could achieve.

I think there's definitely the challenge of messaging because there's so much cynicism around the idea, when you say “peaceniks”, or you say "Oh, yeah, she's working for world peace", as if it's like Miss Universe or something, you know "I want world peace". So we have to shift cynicism into a more practical area of work. But also giving people a sense of what they can do about it ... what's their responsibility. I think there’s a lot we could be learning from the lobby groups that have been effective in this country. Whether it's the NRA or the arms industry, in terms of how they organize, how they message, how they act, and how much they care about their issue, or they manage to make their constituents care when they feel that their interests are being threatened.

I sometimes wonder whether that kind of activism is driven by fear and anger, whereas ours is driven by being fundamentally optimistic and having a “live-and-let-live” kind of approach to life. I do think there is an element of really mobilizing and giving people a menu of options of how they could engage. Not everybody's going to be doing this 24/7. You want them to engage in terms of their own time, and feel that they're a voice that matters. I think the possibilities are endless. We have so much scope for growth that if we put our attention and energy into it, I think there's, you know… let's see, let's see what happens in the next five years if we put the amount of energy into this the environmental movement has had. It would be cool to see the results.