Ordinary buildings like swimming pools, petrol stations, shops and primary schools, caught up in conflict and used for violent means, could hold part of the answer to the multi-billion-dollar question, how can a more engaging, robust and reliable peace-process be conceived, established and sustained in warring nations such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen?
A question that national and international governments, the United Nations and the ever-growing NGO (non-government organisation) community have struggled with for decades. A struggle directly effecting the security, economy and social nature of countries like the UK. A struggle reflected in the fact that more than 50% of all peace agreements have reverted to violence within five years or have resorted to other non-conventional form of violent behaviour and that the world is more precarious than it has been since the end of the cold war in 1991.
International Peacebuilding consultant Frazer Macdoanld Hay suggests that these ‘every-day’ buildings have the potential to reduce the likelihood of a return to violence and could help address many of the underlying issues surrounding international migration, internally displaced people and ultimately improve security at home and abroad.
“What’s required is a shift in mindset,” says Frazer Macdonald Hay. “A step away from the traditional approaches of elite driven, top-down and internationally informed nation-building, peppered by museums, monuments and other porous jesters of western centric liberal democracy before a platform of tolerance and trust has been established at the everyday level.”
“Peace begins with the notion of home, at a fundamental local level that can be understood and identified with. Home, gives a sense of belonging, identity and social reassurance. If our homes are physically, psychologically and emotionally compromised then what chance has anyone of building a peaceful existence whilst haunted by the entangled emotions of conflict and survival”.
Frazer Macdonald Hay’s research explores the potential of the everyday buildings associated with home; key buildings framing the fabric of societal interaction and communication. Everyday buildings with a violent past and which require a positive re-integration within the community they once served only to traumatise during and after conflict. In other words, to help them assimilate within a community they had a role in destroying.
“These buildings are important characters within the community and like any combatant, they will struggle to play a positive part in the community unless they are understood, acknowledged and given the opportunity to develop a positive role in rebuilding the community. They represent a great deal of significance with regards to their role facilitating the local power dynamic. For many they echo the abuse of power, traumatic experience, terrifying memories and heightened lack of trust in the ‘other’. For others they represented a means of control, gaining and distributing information, a military function, a natural result or response to warlike conditions. Either way these buildings embody a complicated and traumatic set of issues that amplify the post-conflict communities entangles emotions”.
“In the past, the default position on these buildings was one of demolition or camouflage, however, this has done little to address the memories and stories surrounding their existence. In fact, this practice has created a myth, a frightening story or monster, easily manipulated to terrify and control public perceptions tapping into unresolved trauma. The monsters grow in significance, capture the imagination of the media and rival factions, eventually amplified beyond their tragic reality, re-worked and deployed to play a role in destabilising any peaceful intentions and igniting further violence.
These buildings therefore are highly controversial and complicated characters within a community transitioning from a negative to a positive peace. Nevertheless, they form an essential role in defining home. They are the background to our social interactions, our relationship with others and offer a sense of the familiar, culture and identify.
It is important to remember that these communities lived and are now terrified to live like any other, like yours and mine. To live in an environment where people from diverse backgrounds, religion or origin, rub shoulders at the local shop, where children play outside or going swimming together, where communities attend local celebrations and support one and other in times of need, perhaps sharing collectively any local sorrows and hardship”.
Frazer Macdonald Hay provides some context to the article. “In October 2017 part of my work was conducted in Mosul City, in local buildings used by international aid agencies and which were considered ordinary community spaces, innocuous buildings, used to distribute localised aid and information. Buildings rapidly made good so that they might continue their pre-war purpose”.
“One of these building, was a typical Iraqi primary school with a high wall perimeter and a complex of single story buildings at its centre. A building used to teach pre-war, which had spaces for education and social development, full of happy sounds of laughter and play.
Post-war the building was used to meet local community elders and representatives, to arrange supplies and inform the community of peacebuilding plans and support ongoing projects whilst becoming a school again.
However, what was overlooked, was the impact and role of the property during the conflict. The property was used by ISIS to disseminate information, reward affiliation, manage resistance, it was also used to torture and punish the demographic under its control".
"For the local demographic it was clear that the building had an unresolved presence in the community, many wouldn’t go inside or had horrific tales of family members never returning once they did. This building reminded everyone of the fragility of the peace and that ISIS or an organisation like it, was never that far away, in fact it was and still is, a powerful war character, a major combatant, and it was right there in full view, un-challenged and un-integrated. A building with sinister whisperings that grow louder as the white hard-shell vehicles of the UN retreat well before nightfall and all that remains, are the memories of a community at its most vulnerable and those familiar feelings of conflict and turmoil sour the night once more”.
Based in an old East Lothian lighthouse, Frazer has a consultancy called UNIFORM NOVEMBER, he works with communities destroyed by violence, communities which are expected to physically and emotionally return home, to carry on where they left off and to contribute positively to an idea of a peaceful productive nation. He has recently returned from the Ninewa Governance, Iraq. Working as a consultant for a highly respected NGO connected to the United Nations. It was his job to visit and assess the areas liberated from ISIS. He was contracted as a housing land and property (HLP) specialist assessing legal, policy and institutional frameworks for land dispute management in Iraq; assessing the role of law enforcement actors in HLP dispute resolution mechanisms (both formal and informal)
Frazer is a peace-building consultant at UNIFORM NOVEMBER, researcher at The University of Edinburgh and Research Fellow St. Andrews University