Speech by HE george vella, President of Malta at the 1st academic symposium of the global council for tolerance and peace on academic trends in higher education, 9th October 2019

President Al-Jarwan

Rector Dr Alfred Vella

Esteemed guests

 

  • It is indeed a great pleasure to be here today to launch the first academic symposium of the global council for tolerance and peace. I extend my warm congratulations to the president of the GCTP, HE Dr Ahmed al-Jarwan for his continued belief in the noble principles of peaceful coexistence and commitment to consider Malta as the natural home for the promotion of dialogue, acceptance and peace.
  • Malta’s longstanding vocation for dialogue and peace goes back to the 1975 Helsinki conference on security and co-operation in Europe (csce) whereby it was upon Malta’s insistence that European leaders realised the validity of dialogue with southern partners and the imperative need to include the mediterranean chapter in the final act. Today, Malta continues to hold dearly to this vocation, and through various institutions and organizations endeavors to promote dialogue and peace as a means towards attaining more security, stability and prosperity.
  • The global council for tolerance and peace was established in Malta back in 2017 and in the past three years it actively contributed to raise awareness on the importance of promoting tolerance and peace, whilst facilitating dialogue between various stakeholders. It is interesting to mention that the scope and function of the GCTP is complimented with the work of the international parliament, bringing together numerous members of parliament and directly contributing to this global movement for peace and acceptance.
  • Reports in the media frequently link peace education to conflict zones or sectarian societies struggling to restore the balance between respect for the self, and respect for the ‘other’. Nonetheless, if we look closely at our communities and immediate neighborhoods, conflict is a constant presence and violent escalation is unfortunately a frequent outcome. We only have to think about perceived cultural differences, racial inequality and structural violence[1] as precursors for violent clashes. That is why it is imperative to speak about these grievances, and to promote and implement mechanisms that are conducive to a non-violent resolution. Over all, action needs to be grounded in social justice principles and above all based on a good educational background.
  • There is no evident discrimination in kindergartens and primary classes amongst school children coming from different ethnic, racial, cultural and religious backgrounds. Children find it natural. It is only on growing up and falling under the influence of familial prejudices and political decisions of a discriminatory nature, that we tend to become selective, and exclusive. Discrimination, exclusion, marginalization and ostracism are the perfect ingredients for the development of dissidence, rise of xenophobia, racism and all sorts of intolerance.
  • When we speak of non-violence, it is important we take a strong commitment to preserve freedoms, strengthen trust in one another and ensure human rights principles are adopted at all levels of society. The social justice component requires a better framework to ensure equality, responsibility and solidarity are respected by all. Through this inter-face circuit, we are continuously shifting the onus from the individual to the collective group and vice-versa.
  • The role of the family and the school are central to ensure young people’s understanding of the world is grounded in strong principles of understanding and acceptance. Nonetheless, it is also important to recognize the importance of people to people contact and compliment educational school-based material with more hands-on approaches.
  • Therefore we need to ignite young people’s curiosity and interest about different customs, ideas and beliefs, and provide the necessary platforms to do so as well as entice them to cross the bridges we build, to mingle with each other.

We need to ensure that young people can travel and meet with other youths and thus are able to appreciate more the world around them whilst absorbing and learning different skills.

Holistically, we need to promote youth mobility and ensure these opportunities reach youths from different areas and academic backgrounds especially those from underprivileged or developing countries.

  • I believe it is important to recognize that we are all part of this continuous expedition towards a life of tranquility, harmony and peace. The possibility to listen to people of different beliefs and sustain a multi-cultural approach in our societies are two important tools for the promotion of dialogue, acceptance and peace. We all hold the key to promote peace education and cultivate in our hearts and in our respective communities, principles of strong social justice.
  • You might have noticed that i am deliberately using the word acceptance, instead of tolerance. Without upsetting president al-Jarwan’s agenda with a proposal to change the name of the council, i believe that when we only speak about tolerance, we are promoting a passive coexistence and not fully reflecting the benefits brought by dialogue, acceptance and peace. Accepting someone is more complete than just tolerating them. Accepting implies ‘ inclusion’. Tolerance means just putting up with somebody.
  • As once proposed by the father of peace studies Prof. Johan Galtung, we should encourage curiosity, celebrate diversity and recognize that personal and collective growth is only possible through dialogue and learning experiences within our diverse communities
  • I find that this approach highlights the important singular role each and every one of us has to be advocates for peace and through our daily work and lives to implement a philosophy of acceptance, dialogue and long lasting peace
  • I am confident that the speakers that will follow will provide an academic and more comprehensive understanding of how best to promote and sustain peace. Peace education should become an essential part of our curricula. It is only through education that the necessary mentalities, attitudes and preparedness can be achieved to provide fertile grounds for tolerance and peace to thrive.

 

[1] Structural violence is a term commonly ascribed to Johan Galtung, which he introduced in the article “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research” (1969). It refers to a form of violence wherein some social structure or social institution may harm people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs