I have recently been invited to a panel by Writers Space Africa to talk about global peace and literature; how literature can be used to promote global peace. This topic has been inspired by the International Day of Peace that had been recently commemorated. I therefore, have also been inspired by that panel discussion to share my thoughts on how literature has the power to promote peace in the world.
Peace as a concept is altogether ambiguous. What is peaceful for someone may not necessarily be peaceful for another. As such, peace may be defined according to which perspective an individual is looking at it from. My definition of global peace is a state of happiness of people, freedom from war among nations. This definition may be different from the definition of a person who looks at peace from a different angle, but one thing that remains obvious is the fact that whatever definition is given to the concept of peace, writers have the ability to contribute to the promotion of global peace through the art of literature.
To start with, I don’t believe that the world is peaceful, at least not entirely peaceful. There are numerous indicators that can serve as clear manifestations that the world is not entirely peaceful. For instance, the production of nuclear weapons, atomic bombs, missiles, fighter jets, rockets etc., is a clear manifestation that the world is not peaceful. These are weapons of war and mass destruction and they have demolished so many countries, cities, towns, and even villages. What is the essence of these weapons if the world was peaceful?
Courtesy of Sidney Sheldon’s novel ‘The Sky is falling’, I came to learn about the underground city of Krasnoyarsk-26 which is one of the thirteen cities engaged in nuclear production.
“Krasnoyarsk-26 is located in central Siberia, two thousand miles from Moscow, and since its creation in 1958, it has produced more than forty-five tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Although two of its plutonium-producing reactors were shut down in 1992, one remains active, currently producing half a ton of plutonium a year, which can be used to make atomic bombs.” Sydney Sheldon, The Sky is Falling. This information is by no way fictional but a real phenomenon underground.
If such an enterprise exist in the world, there is high possibility that global peace and stability can be threatened anytime by powerful nations. Taking into account this reality, can you say that the world is peaceful? Absolutely not. Secondly, the current global situation and reality is undoubtedly another indicator of the obvious fact that the world isn’t peaceful. Some people believe that the corona virus was deliberately made to wage a biological war against humans. Whether this assertion is true or false I do not know, but one thing that I know is that this pandemic confirms the assertion that the world is not peaceful. It has led to the closure of schools; people are compelled to live in lockdown, not to mention the economic consequences that it has inflicted on people.
According to a publication made by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the trend in peacefulness since 2008 shows that global peacefulness has deteriorated by 3.78 per cent, with 81 Global Peace Index (GPI) countries recording a deterioration, and 81 improving, highlighting that deteriorations in peacefulness are generally larger than improvements. The index has deteriorated for eight of the last twelve years, with the last improvement in peacefulness before 2019 occurring in 2014. Seventeen of the 23 GPI indicators are less peaceful on average in 2019 when compared to 2008.
Now, looking at literature as a very powerful and influential tool, writers have a very important role to play in ensuring that the world becomes more peaceful than it is today. One important advantage that writers have in the world is that people listen to them, respect them, and at some point adapt some of the things that they write. In the case of prose for instance, writers can write about a story that explores a devastating war and its effects on the people and society. Using fictional characters and settings, writers can inform their readership about how wars can destroy nations, cities, town, and villages, thereby discouraging people from resorting to war instead of peaceful avenues to settle scores.
Stories reflect contemporary realities in our societies. Whatever ramification that a devastating war has on a fictional society is simply a representation of the effects that wars have on nations that experienced it. This is the relevance of literature in every society since it depicts the realities that are going on in the society. Using this method, writers can promote peace in a particular society through the influence of literature; it just depends on the type of compelling stories that writers can write about with very compelling plot.
Many Greek playwrights used literature as a weapon to bring about peace in ancient Greece. The likes of Sophocles, Aristophanes, Aristotle, and Geoffrey Chaucer have used their plays in advocating for peace in the Greek society. For instance, Aristophanes wrote his play ‘Lysistrata’ at a time when there was a long standing war between Athens and Sparta. In this play, Aristophanes satirizes male superiority, presenting women as the catalysts who brought about peace between Athens and Sparta. This play and many other Greek plays were acted in dramas in the most important events in Greece, thereby bringing the people of Greece together as one people and one nation.
Literature has proven to be a powerful element in the struggle for long lasting peace in the Greek society, and if it had ensured peace and stability for the Greek playwrights in those times, it can as well ensure peace for contemporary writers in recent times. Writers need to demonstrate the real repercussion of war in their works just like the way Aristophanes depicted the repercussion of war in his play Lysistrata, especially when the war was going badly for the Athenians.
I will not be fair to this topic without bringing the importance of peace for the evolution and development of literature and for writers in general. Writers will find it very difficult, if not impossible to write in an atmosphere of chaos and war, conflict or strife and this can hinder the development of literature and writing. In essence, as long as literature is concerned, peace is indispensable. Peace is a fundamental factor for the development of literature in the world and hence the need for writers to join the fight against conflict and war, using a very powerful and influential tool called literature.
Knowing that literature cannot excel in the absence of peace, writers are a fundamental factor that can advocate for global peace using different genres such as prose, poetry, children’s literature, flash fiction etc., bringing the realities of war and conflicts in these works to a global audience. Articles, essays, and even memoirs are all means through which writers can advocate for peace in the world, while exposing the negative effects of war and conflicts thereby discouraging nations from resorting to war.
If there’s one thing that literature is capable of doing, it is influence; the ability to entice and educate people. As a result, it can be used to educate and sensitize people on the negative effects of war; what an ideal and beautiful world we will dwell in without wars; how people can pursue their dreams and discover their best selves in the absence of war and conflict; how nations can ensure rapid development without any fear of having their infrastructures demolished as a result of war and conflicts. These are sufficient motivations to discourage people and nations from going to war.
To conclude, I am inclined to the belief that writers have the ability to immensely contribute to the promotion of peace in the world. I therefore, urge my fellow writers to use the power of literature to contribute to the verity and promotion of global peace. Let us write about sensitive issues that bring people together, unite nations and ensure that wars and conflicts no longer exist in our world.
By: Ismaila Saidybah
Major in English
University of The Gambia