The Commonwealth represents a unique example of change. From what was once territories forming the British Empire, is now simply an alliance of member countries, in principle standing together, shoulder to shoulder as ‘free and equal’. Member countries may have no legal obligation to one another, but what the Commonwealth in theory represents is a moral obligation to shared values of democracy, free speech, human rights and importantly the rule of law. In practice, there may be broad disparities in the socio-economic and political conditions found in many of its member countries, but for any positive change to occur, it requires that firm principles are in place as an ideal for its members to work towards. For this reason I believe that the Commonwealth, with its diversity and perhaps disparity, can play a crucial role in peace-building in a world where peace is seldom, if at all, reached through solely political means.
History seems to have a painful way of reteaching lessons for those who fail to grasp the lesson in the first instance. After World War II we as a humanity felt that lessons were learnt. The 21st century nevertheless has witnessed a continuation of war, pain and suffering. In 2017, we are faced by the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, where peace appears not just a novelty in some parts of the world, but a truly unattainable ideal. It is exactly at this crucial junction in history that the Commonwealth can offer so much.
If sustainable peace is to be achieved, then laws, charters, political or even governmental interventions may be secondary in this quest. What is required is sustainability and that can only come when societies, from their roots, change. The heart and the soul of man, who was created in the image of God, must feel the touch of the Divine. I believe that religion and its principles bind humanity through a covenantal relationship where the common thread is the image of God and our moral obligations are towards that image. Religions therefore must understand their role in a world where, what was once perceived as damned to history, is now once again coming to the forefront of global societies.
The Commonwealth can play a two-fold role in peace-building and reconciliation work; it can either take the role of a facilitator or a key actor in brokering peace.
As a facilitator, it can tap into its vast resource network of cultures, languages, religions and shared values for dialogue to begin again. And, if it is argued that wars today are fuelled by religious conflict, then it is also true that religions with their shared values are the best antidote in changing the hearts and minds of its adherents.
The Commonwealth, with its unique position in bringing together cultures, languages and religions, is also in a unique position of trust through the commitment of its members. It can therefore start interfaith peace-building, which may lead to quicker results; after-all we have witnessed in the last two decades that faith seems to have long term durability.
For the second part, I would like to take an example. The most pragmatic and practical example I can present is current day Iraq; a country sickened by ISIS, but with hopes for one day living in peace. Politically engineered peace seems almost always to fail, yet if a parallel process with genuine interfaith peace-building was offered, I do believe this would one day lead to sustained long term peace. Religious and tribal leaders have an overarching influence in Iraq. The Commonwealth as a body for the common good and with its comprehension of culture and tradition through its very DNA, could one day play a key mediating role in unifying this, or similar such nations tired of solely political interventions.
In short, religions have an ever-evolving strategic role in the world that we live in. Interfaith will become a key tool in the search for peace and peace-building. It is exactly here that the very principles of the Commonwealth can be applied and a new chapter in reconciliation can begin.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Commonwealth Society.