Celia McKeon is a peace-builder. She has more than 15 years’ experience of supporting and documenting peace processes in various contexts, including the post-Yugoslav states, Colombia and Northern Ireland.
Twitter – @celiajrct
Biography published 2015
In her talk Celia is asking us to clench our fists, tighter. How would it feel to clench it for ever? Now open your hand, stretch it out, and notice how that feels.
It wasn’t until she was 16 that Celia realised how important security could be. She was in a camp in Europe, and became friends with a Croatian girl. During the Balkan conflict, she wrote to her friend, but eventually lost contact. She was horrified that her friend was exposed to such experiences and insecurities. So she got involved in peace-building.
Time and again, she has learnt that peace and security are built by talking about the root causes, with an out-stretched hand and not a clenched fist.
In places like the UK not affected by such conflict, we can still ask what security means. Does it mean defence? Pictures of tanks and barbed-wire fences?
Sources of insecurity include patriarchy, militarised violence, climate change, concentration of power, financial insecurity. All cross boundaries, and require collective global solutions. So the 20th century requires us to build security with an out-stretched hand. Yet the global spend on defence is over $4 trillion dollars. There is something wrong.
Iraq and Afghanistan have been dubbed ‘strategic’ failures for Western governments. We are deploying drones, supposedly precision strikes, but more than 100 people have been killed when trying to kill one leader. Which has led to even higher resentment. Everyone has a clenched fist.
We are told there are no other options. But there are, from a different starting point, relying on building relationships, confronting inequalities, and recognising humanity. There are seven elements required, including: access to work, access to food, health protection, trust in communities, political participation.
Celia is sharing stories of how this has worked in practice: in the Philippines via a touring government commission; in northern Mali via many community organisers; in Northern Ireland via a touring citizens’ inquiry.
It is not a magic solution, but conversations and the willingness to listen are powerful. In the UK’s ‘war on terror’, we need the courage not to respond to a clenched fist with another clenched fist. How instead can we build basic security for everyone? Power – the UK elite are tied into global military sales – isn’t working. Let’s consider being vulnerable instead, where most break-throughs have come. The most transformative moments in peace processes around the world are when the risk is taken to build relationships… unclenching the fist and offering an out-stretched hand.