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Comment
Last Updated: 05/06/2011
Peacejacking: Peace Literacy and the Co-optation of Peace Concepts
Oliver Rizzi Carlson

Oliver Rizzi Carlson comments on the (ab)use of peace language to describe the reported capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. Far from an isolated case, Rizzi suggests that we call this form of dialectal manipulation "peacejacking".


As I learned about the reported killing of Osama bin Laden, I was shocked by the language used to justify his assassination. In fact, I was taken aback by the stress, the pain, the heaviness with which those words were trying to hold up the morality of yet more violence, and hopelessly clung to its elusive promise. They were propping up violence with peace, forcing a process of co-being into stilts of righteousness; and wishing that just this time mercury might be a cure for poisoning.

We have seen many times the use of ideals of peace and security in justification of horrible acts of repression and exclusion. We have used our own concepts of peace to make a change in those approaches, and our words have often resulted weak, either ineffective in the face of similar language justifying violence, or an outright liability when used with groups that want real change. The language of peace has been hijacked and taken from us so that we become ineffective, spending enormous amounts of energy trying to show how “peace” is different from what is done in its name. We need to reroute the moral and neurological connections established between peace and violent thoughts, words and actions. We need to address the cultural violence that justifies its structural and physical expressions and call it by name.

As I was talking with a fellow peace educator about this, my friend Stephanie Knox Cubbon, we came up with a word: An initial definition of peacejack is:

to manipulate or use terminology related to peace to justify or promote ideas, words or actions that deny or reduce complexity or diversity; 2. ?to use terminology related to peace to deny the dialogic process of peace; 3. to use the terminology of peace to create hierarchies, moral differentials or portray a simplistic view of human relationships; 4. to deceptively use the terminology of peace to promote a misleading perception of one's (e.g., government, company, movement) policies and actions.

In our own work, we may want to develop different definitions. What is important is that we have a concept to describe when peace is being manipulated at its own expense in the justification of violence. This is how we can talk about cultural violence in real terms. Part of our work should be to develop peace literacy by pointing out how and why violence makes use of peace to have moral recognition. In fact, without those peace feet, it would not be able to stand.

It is important to note that conceptually violent worldviews, just as oppressive structures of power, hide their true structure – the violence of exclusion. It is up to us peace educators to make apparent the violence and the contradictions contained not only in military attacks or political, social, economic policies, but also in the conceptual frameworks that are used to justify their existence. We live in language, and we must enable each other to create a world, through language, that is truly free of violence.

I invite all of us to pay attention to this, and to use the concept of peacejacking to have clarity on what peace is and what it is not; to give peace space to breathe and be understood for the complex and diverse process it is rather than letting it suffocate in a cloud of false connections. Let us reclaim that wisdom of clear relation so that we may use it effectively; so that it will be clear to all who are in pain, including those who peacejack, that there are other ways of dealing with conflict and that violence is never effective, never sustainable. Peace, embracing complexity and allowing all people, all pain and all paths to exist in the same reality, is a different process whose distinctiveness must be made clear so that we may all know where to turn in order to realize our intentions.

In fact, the only reason anyone would peacejack, as anyone being violent must do to maintain a minimum sense of self-worth, is a confusion about how else to respond to violence if not with violence. We peacejack when we are confused, lost while looking for a meaning to the violence we carry out, clinging to only the hope it would somehow have a peace effect. We do not imagine what a peace approach would be like, and we don’t realize that peace starts with the process we implement to create it. As we educate for peace, the idea of peacejacking can help us show and develop peace literacy, and empower us to put in place actions and policies that truly carry the spirit and seeds we intend to make flourish.

As peace educators, let us gently and compassionately disarm ideas that perpetuate violence and at once hurt the object, the listener, and the speaker. Let us show each other our forgotten humanity and how it is different from the blurry image that our eyes, in pain, couldn’t focus on. And let us begin, as always, by looking deep into ourselves to heal and transform the cultural violence that we have inherited. May we compassionately understand the pain that translates into peacejacking, and heal it with our open hearts – so that we may all understand and practice peace anew.

Oliver Rizzi Carlson is Editor of the Global Campaign for Peace Education Newsletter and Sower and Caretaker of the Culture of Peace Organization. He is also Representative at the UN for the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, Operation Peace Through Unity, as well as the Global Alliance for Ministries and Departments of Peace.


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