Peace is not the natural state of man in the world. That, at least, I have learned – if nothing else – over the last twenty years. The utopians of our post-modern world order would have us believe that with the right technocratic fixes, dials turned to the correct settings and levers pulled at the precise moments, we can manage our way to peace and prosperity.
Francis Fukuyama called this the “End of History”.
Seems like history ended, only to start up again in the lost corners of the world, places which exist as the opposite of epicenter, where: “A pre-modern formlessness governs the battlefield, evoking the wars in medieval Europe (…)” areas far away and forgotten and, “…owing to violence, volatility, and disease, are again becoming, as Graham Greene once observed, ‘blank’ and ‘unexplored,’” as Robert Kaplan has written. While we in lands powerful and erstwhile prosperous might use the strength of our currencies and power of our institutions – and our militaries – to hold the line against the “arriving ordeal”, we have been forced to surrender the interior to gangs and armed groups, jihadists and smugglers and traffickers where the wars bubble un-ceasing for years between bouts of a tense and unhopeful peace.
This is what has happened in Sudan, in Congo and Mali and Burma and Syria and Yemen and even places closer to home like Venezuela and parts of Mexico. And this is what is happening in northeast Nigeria, where the insurgency has raged at least for nine years; perhaps longer, depending upon how you count it.
But how do we end wars? How do we finally stop the staccato bursts of AK-47s in the dead of night or the blasts on market day where women sit behind little piles of fish and anemic tomatoes hoping for sufficient luck and providence to allow them that day to go home safe and with money to feed their ever-expanding families? Perhaps, just perhaps, we can look back to civilizations that flourished, not only for the nobles but for those who would have been peasants – people like me – to understand from whence peace might arrive. And I would suggest that it does not come from where you are imagining. You are probably thinking about the building of armies or the training of policemen or the drafting of a more sophisticated legislation – you perhaps see fields of tulips beyond the next bloody election. I am not talking of these things; because they have all been tried and found wanting.
I am talking of literature.
There is a case to be made that the enlightenment in Europe was not a result of political agreements, the limitation of monarchies or even the installation of the nation state following the Thirty Years War which ended the instability of empire. It was probably not the redistribution of wealth caused by the great plague, and the accompanying explosion of industry and a merchant class after all cobblers and tailors had perished. It was perhaps not even that essential act of wresting from the Catholic Church its corrupted iron grip over politics.
It is said that the west’s rebirth came in the form of reading – and reading novels. While Gutenberg gave us technology to allow us all to read, it was the novelists who injected our societies with empathy. The ability to put ourselves in the shoes of the protagonists and make common cause with their conflicts and struggles; the source of compassion and pro-active “natural law” legislation and activism in an upward trend to deliverance.
Cue “Ordinary Savior: New Stories from Nigeria’s Northeast”. This new anthology of eleven short stories written by residents of Nigeria’s war-torn northeast allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of people who live their lives under the ever-present threat of violence and war. The daily decisions taken, always considering the war. The existential choices that become ever-so-much-more-so in the face of scarcity caused by war and its destruction. The social evils with which a society must grapple – dislocation and rape and violence. Unwanted pregnancies; unintended displacements; unjust detentions. These stories, well written and moving, create empathy. It is my hope that this empathy begins to seep from the lost war-torn places in one of the poorest areas of the world and into the minds of men and women in the form of entertainment – of the powerful and the prosperous who might read the book while sipping Champagne in business class on the way to Berlin or while waiting in a doctor’s office in a place cold and clean to have their health preserved. People who have it in their power to affect the destiny of war and the futures of the unlucky inhabitants of violence.
So for you, reading this, I entreat you – pick up a copy of the anthology and immerse yourself in the stories of Nigeria’s northeast as you make common cause with people in their epic fight to overcome. Then find some way to lend a hand to their struggle. Because that is how we end wars.