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Facets of Social Fracture and Fear


Considering the context of home after conflict - how do families rebuild their homes in and amongst the ruins of social fracture and ethnic fear?

Living in conditions shadowed by conflict tends to erode the civilizing effect of co-operative behaviour and stimulates the worst aspects of human behaviour.

I am always exploring the idea that socially significant buildings provide the means to develop post-conflict places that will facilitate the emergence of home, a place where trust and tolerance can be considered once more

'Ex-combatant building' is a term I use that acknowledges the building’s agency in war and in peace time conditions. This is a term recognising certain buildings as more than just a passive structural envelope, sheltering and facilitating wartime behaviour but a combatant of war.

By identifying these ex-combatant buildings, it is possible to draw comparisons with their human counterparts and recognise the need for similar DDR responses to everyday buildings used for violence. According to the UN, the DDR process is to help contribute to security and stability in post-conflict environments so that recovery and development can begin.

“The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants together make up a complex process with political, military, security, humanitarian and socio-economic dimensions. This process aims to deal with the post-conflict security problem that arises when combatants are left without livelihoods and support networks during the vital period stretching from conflict to peace, recovery and development. (UN,2014) A process that assists in the reintegration of ex-combatants and to support communities receiving ex-combatants and working for their peaceful and sustainable reintegration. Through a process of comprehensively disarming combatants, preparing them for civilian life and providing them with opportunities for sustainable social and economic reintegration, DDR aims to support this high-risk group so that they become stakeholders in the peace process.

However, DDR cannot be approached as a purely human or technocratic exercise, and do not address the grievances of each group may seriously undermine or negatively influence the peace process. Ex-combatant buildings have an opportunity to engage both groups and represent a tangible conduit from which to address social anxieties on a pathway to peace.

Three 'ex-combatant buildings' under review are:

  1. Abu Ghraib prison, West Baghdad, Iraq

  2. Nugra Salman, south of Iraq, close to the Saudi Arabia Boarder

  3. The Red Museum (this is also called Amna Suraka in Kurdish), in Sulaimaneyah city

What gives humankind hope and what separates the behaviour of the people from the animals is our ability to think rationally, but in conditions of heightened tension and fear group behaviour emerges which is not based on rational calculations but instead is driven more by rigid beliefs about identity and survival. In such an environment the individual is more likely to lose the ability for independent thought and to find their distinctiveness subsumed by the power of group thought. It is in these conditions that large groups can frequently become consumed by their histories and identification with earlier trauma, which intensifies their focus on ‘their recitation of past injuries which magnifies their perceptions of threat and danger. When the group or country cannot reverse this deep sense of powerlessness, there is an increased likelihood that the next generation will be trapped in victimhood and bound together by a traumatic identity (Volkan, 1998).


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