Social media has been rightfully heralded as a means to connect the world. But it is being increasingly used, inside and outside the United States, to incite hatred and agitate gullible users to violent civil conflict.
Politicians who follow this lead, suggesting that there will be violence in the streets or that the next election “will be decided by bullets not ballots,” do not know civil war. The words may make them or their listeners and readers feel powerful, even noble, evoking lofty purposes of earlier revolutions or as some have termed it, a Holy War.
In reality, the people forwarding, listening to, and absorbing this talk have never come close to the horror of seeing a child or other family member die from a violent attack. They have no concept of the suffering of being internally displaced, or not knowing, when an explosion has gone off in a nearby street or bridge, if your spouse was in the wrong place, if they’re injured or still alive. If they had, they would realize that there is nothing noble about hatred, violence, or the death of innocent civilians.
Yet opposing hatred and hate speech with antagonism or ridicule, from either the left or the right, provokes more of the same from the oppositition and feeds “the fight.” Opposing violence with violence deepens the divisions and makes them more intractable.
We need better answers.
The “better answers” are embodied by five men and women who have seen the toll of civil conflict up close, with their own families and community members, and took effective action to resolve and end the violence.
Three of them have passed from us in recent years but helped to shape the world we live in. Two are still with us and working for peace every day — one as an international activist, one as the President of the young democracy he helped to found. All five have won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Any study of modern conflict — and any search for answers to today’s conflicts — is incomplete without the stories of what they faced, and how they changed the history of their countries and their regions.