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We need a unified voice
From the morning after the Brexit vote, I’ve felt shell shocked and disconcerted. On a personal level I suddenly have this deep sense of ‘unbelonging’. I’ve lived in the US for 15 years but it’s always felt temporary: like living on the surface. As for Iran, this is the where my deepest roots are, and where they feel watered, but, as the saying goes, it’s complicated. The one place I truly feel at home and safe is the UK, and London in particular. But today felt like a punch in the stomach. So like many others, I’ve been devouring the news and the tweets and the Facebook posts, trying to make sense of it. Here are five points:
This obsession with the bureaucracy of the EU (or the UN for that matter) is a distraction. While Fox News mistakenly claimed that the UK voted to exit from the UN, the headline was ominously prescient. We must take care to avoid falling further into that trap. Instead we need to focus on bringing to life and realizing the commitments that our governments have made on paper – like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and so many others. This backward step of exiting from the EU is akin to being told that your university degree from 20 years ago is no longer valid. We cannot afford to regress – not when so much good has come of the unity, and so much more could be done.
It reminds me of the words and work of the brilliant Professor Radhika Balakrishnan who asks the simple question, ‘what is the purpose of the economy and economic policy?’ Balakrishnan suggests we need to put the attainment of economic and social rights (which should be the basis of governance) as the raison d’être of economic policies. In other words, our economic systems have to ensure that kids get decent education and that we have health care and jobs that aren’t about ‘getting by’ but that offer dignity – both in the salaries they provide and the substance of what people do for a living.
We need to work on social cohesion – not just tolerance or parallel coexistence – but on bringing us together, to acknowledge the good and bad in each of our cultures and traditions. Otherwise our pluralism is going to be fodder for forces that seek to polarize us which includes our increasingly insidious media. No society on earth today can withstand that sort of divisiveness. Yet little is being done to proactively and creatively resist these divisions. Instead of celebrating and acknowledging diversity, even progressive leaders and pundits are too quiet and a little too defensive. I remember in 2008 when the Republicans and right wing media in the US was accusing Obama of being Muslim. The liberal media’s response was basically ‘of course he’s not Muslim’ – instead of being ‘For the record, he is a Christian, but so what if he were Muslim?’ That is the very foundation upon which the US is built.
The answers are all right in front of us – literally. But right now it’s a little like a cacophonic orchestra – we are each playing our own tune. But when we stop and listen, we will realise that whether it’s the climate change community or the women’s rights and peace communities, we are all on the same side, wanting the same things.
The issues we are fighting for resonate with the vast majority of the public – but we are too disparate and too underfunded right now, to have a strong unified voice and message. Our task is to have our orchestra playing off the same sheet – with each set of instruments getting their airtime – the effect can be profoundly positive. If we are strategic, we can deepen the ties between people within our societies, while also strengthening the relations between our countries globally. Imagine building a house – we start with a vision and blueprint, then the foundations that are determined by architects and engineers. Our home in the world was designed by the architects and engineers of the 1940s, in the aftermath of two world wars. For all its flaws, they gave us an incredible home, but over the years, our governments have spent far too much on the fancy interior design or expensive security plans instead of on the foundations, the plumbing and the wiring. We don’t need to pull down the whole house, we just need to focus on the structural renovations.
We can pull ourselves back from the precipice. We have to.
Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini is co-founder of the International Civil Action Society Network (ICAN). ICAN has established a network of women civil society leaders in the Middle East and North Africa who are at the frontline of tackling extremism and militarism, while promoting peace, rights and pluralism. She has been a leading international advocate, researcher, trainer and writer on conflict prevention and peace-building. She was among the civil society drafters of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. She provides strategic guidance and training to key UN agencies, governments and NGOs worldwide, and is the author of Women Building Peace: What they do, and why it matters.