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What makes peace sustainable?

‘Realising we have shared ancestors and that our past is dynamic makes us more accepting of others.’ Sada Mire is an archaeologist at Leiden University and a former refugee – she fled from the civil war in Somalia. At the HagueTalks night during the Just Peace Festival, she will share her thoughts on how to invest in sustainable peace.

You are an archaeologist, giving a speech at a peace festival. What does an archaeologist know about peace?

‘I’m not just an archaeologist: I’m also a former refugee who has suffered a civil war – in Somalia – and witnessed extreme violence, which led my family and millions of others to flee. I spent a year as an Internally Displaced Person (a person who fled to safety but stayed within their own country), and after that as a refugee in Ethiopia and Sweden.’

‘I started to study archaeology not because I am fascinated with ancient things, but rather because I am interested in how understanding the human past can make sense of the present and help us project and plan a better future. In my research, I ask questions that are important for me personally. I study diversity in the archaeology and the plural voices that are represented in heritage: I look at our shared roots and a diversity of ancestors.’

Shared roots and a diversity of ancestors, that sounds contradictory?

‘Yes, it may seem like that, but actually diversity is something that we all share. We need to realise that heritage is fluid and dynamic. By unearthing knowledge about the past that is plural, I am able to help people challenge the fixed identities that often lead to a “we and them” situation. If you see that your past is shared, that people you thought were too different from you are actually like you, you become more accepting of others. I hope to show that archaeological research does not always just reinforce the dominant narratives we are fed by either religious or national identity. If we accept that, we learn to have an open mind about our past and our future.’

What can we learn from this for present day conflicts?

‘Take, for example, the religious conflicts in the Balkan region. The same people with the same language shifted religions and proceeded to fight terrible wars in the name of these religious identities. In those battles, they destroyed one another’s heritage. What people don’t realise is that they were actually destroying the heritage of their own ancestors. It’s quite likely that your ancestors were Muslim, but one of them converted to Christianity and now you are fighting Muslims because of some change a couple of hundred years ago. So when you are targeting Muslim heritage, it’s not just the heritage of today’s enemy; it’s also a heritage that once belonged to your own ancestors.’

‘So by realising that your past identity is different from your present one, you are more likely to accept that your neighbours are from another religion and be fine with that. Things change and the world is dynamic. You can learn to appreciate other identities by knowing that nothing has to be fixed: not the past, not the present, and no the future.’

HagueTalks – How can we invest in sustainable peace?

What causes conflict? How do we get out of a conflict, and if we do: what is the precise mix that makes peace sustainable? An interactive discussion night on this theme will take place on 20 September at music venue Paard in The Hague. Four insightful speakers will share their thoughts on the ingredients of sustainable peace. More information on the program
The event is sold out, but you can still join the discussion: follow the speeches via the live stream and share your questions or comments on Twitter using #HagueTalks. This will be monitored live during the discussion.

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