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Quakers are known as a peace church, and have campaigned for a long time on matters that surround war, including lobbying to have the first ever exemption from military service on the grounds of conscientious objection written into law. The right to conscientious objection is now enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights.
Quakers see peace as more than opposition to war and physical violence. It is a comprehensive approach to living in the world, which includes handling conflict in nonviolent ways and ensuring we avoid ways of living which damage the earth, and which might sow the seeds for future violence. We believe that violence and the injustices that often give rise to it are not inevitable, but the consequences of human decisions and structures. This also means that human actions can change the world for the better.
This leads us to work for a ‘just peace’, a peaceful world which is underpinned by principles of equality and justice. It means working for an end to oppression and discrimination, and doing work that prioritises both structural (rules and cultures) and personal (hearts and minds) changes.
In 2022 Quakers in Britain launched a new report on the effectiveness of Peace Education – ‘Peace at the Heart’. A Scottish Parliamentary motion, commending this report was signed by over 1/3 of all MSPs. This led to two Parliamentary events in September 2023. An exhibition on the benefits of Peace education and the teaching of peer mediation/conflict resolution in Scottish schools, was created by Peace Education colleagues in Quaker Peace and Social Witness, and was very well received by MSPs when it was shown at the Parliament. The exhibition is now making its way around Scotland and is available to be hosted by your meeting! (to find out more contact our Parliamentary Engagement Officer Sarah Komashko on SarahK [at] quaker.org.uk.) It has attracted interest among Friends in England and Wales too and will be adapted by QPSW for use across the UK.
The exhibition was preceded by a wonderful event put on by children from Oakgrove Schools in Glasgow who sang, recited and danced their lively way through the inspiring Kenyan true story of 'Wangari's Trees of Peace' in front of an audience of MSPs and educational professionals. One of the long-term outcomes is strengthening relationships with and between educational bodies already active in peace/mediation training and practice, and we'll be looking out for advocacy routes to support this work.
Militarism in Schools
Quakers believe that schools are a place where learning and educating should be happening in a balanced way, and are concerned that the visits of armed forces to schools often have no balance to them, tending to depict army life as glamorous, without warning pupils of the worst health and life outcomes that child recruits may experience throughout and after their army career. Quakers are not seeking to sever the existing relationships between schools and the armed forces, but rather to make sure those relationships are balanced, paint an accurate picture of life in the armed forces, and that those pupils who contentiously object have an opportunity to do so by being informed of visits in advance – which currently does not always happen.
The UK is contravening the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child by having recruitment activities within schools. Along with ForcesWatch, in 2016 Quakers in Scotland submitted a petition on armed forces visits to schools to the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament. The petition and all evidence submitted to the Committee can be read at http://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/armedforcesvisitstoschools
A Peace Institute for Scotland?
Scottish Friends along with colleagues from Britain Yearly Meeting took part in round-table talks with an independent working group advising the Scottish Government on their plans for a Peace Institute. We emphasised the need for such an institute to have a focus on the positive role of peacebuilding, evidenced by a policy of peace-related education in schools.
Plus … Other peace projects and issues we have worked on have included:
- Briefing to MSPs asking them to accept the conscientious objectors memorial plan for Princes St Garden’s Edinburgh
- Briefing MSPs ahead of their debate on Human Rights
- Briefing MSPs ahead of their debate on World Peace Day
- Sending white poppies to MSPs, Scottish MPs and MEPs