Storytelling for peace in the MENA region

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Storytelling1Once upon a time there was, in a faraway land, an encounter of young storytellers all inspired by bringing peace into their communities. And suddenly you realise that storytelling is essential to life and that we are all storytellers and at the same time real characters of many different stories. And what is really interesting and worth to look at is the content of these stories, the identities they create, the values attached to them, and to different characters and situations. What are the stories (narratives) told about your identities? What are the stories you tell about? Have you realised the possible impact of them on yourself and other people?

During this meeting of young storytellers from many different countries in Europe, Middle-East and North Africa (MENA region) there was one special story that created great impact. This story was for me an important moment of reflection and learning. It was told by an Israeli young woman who shared important moments of her life in relation to her father. It happened during a playback theatre evening dedicated to peace.

Honestly I can’t tell what her story was about because it contained so many stories… Though I can say that her story was about war, reconciliation and peace, depending on the listener, on the listener’s background and the filter she/he activated while listening. For instance some listeners saw in her story a provocation, perhaps because she mentioned that her father was proud of fighting for his country, or because she mentioned war at all. Other listeners were delighted by the humanity in her father’s character as he saved an Egyptian soldier while their two countries were in war. Still others saw in her story the reconciliation between her and her father, as he finally accepted she is working for peace.

The real impact of the story stayed on the wide variety of emotions it awakened in the audience: anger, joy, compassion, respect, … And above all the consequences these emotions had on people’s behaviour and on the group dynamics. Perhaps it just fired up something that was already there, something that no one wanted to talk about and probably it is not possible to avoid when people from this region meet all together.

Personally I heard the story with scepticism, I was wondering why mentioning pride for fighting for a country, pride that means fear and pain for many people, from all sides I guess, but still… why? I realised afterwards, talking with other people, that my filter had totally impeded me to listen to the story in a deeper way, I realised I was not open to the other moments of the story and therefore I was unable to realise that the main point of the story was love, not war. And while both war and love were there I was closed to see the loving side and the impact could have been anger instead of compassion and appreciation, as it was as soon as I realised all this.

Like me many other people in the audience, other young storytellers and peacebuilders from the region, were mislead by their prejudices and stereotypes. And this is a very sad thing, because it shows that politics of war and domination achieved their purpose, they are winners, they managed to create a context where even young peacebuilders are unable to enter in dialogue and to listen to the other side of the story. And this is incredible strong and powerful in hindering real peace happening in the region. Once again I have to underline the role patriarchal ruling plays in this, for instance by impeding free flow of information and deeply creating the need for a military based security. It has been created a culture of fear that makes all parties and real people of this complex story to be fearful and therefore believing security is the main issue, while in reality the interests behind are other. And civil society is only the instrument of a game where they will never be winners or have a benefit. None of them, as the situation I am describing demonstrate.

I believe that young peacebuilders and storytellers must be the first to apply the theories and concepts they preach, doing their best to be aware about the effects of the culture of war and domination on people and on themselves too.  I expect from them to show by example real compassion, forgiveness, acceptance and respect. Be open to dialogue and to listen to other sides of the story. Be ready to give up the own stereotypes and prejudices and be open to true listening and diversity of ideas and perspectives. All this can be summed up in a very simple word, the verb LOVE. Be loving to each other and humanise people, seeing further than a national identity, or whatever aspect of identity it might be that is denying someone’s right to humanity and individuality. Furthermore, whenever these little and essential criteria will be present it will be possible to create dialogue and real friendship, seeing further than identity boxes, seeing everyones’ individuality, becoming human.

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