Central to Quakerism is the peace testimony. This derives from the conviction that there is the light, whether that be of God or, as I find more relevant, of truth within everyone. However, rather than holding to written creeds, Quakers find it more meaningful to adopt testimonies that can be followed as an active expression of our faith. This means that a commitment to peace and non-violence, far from being a passive state, is experienced through our daily lives, as well as in engaging with local, national and international issues.
For me, like many young Quakers, being politically active is an important part of this commitment. Throughout history, Quakers have been outspoken and active, most notably in the abolition of slavery and in refusing to serve in the military. Today, many can be found engaged in issues such as campaigning against the Iraq war and for nuclear disarmament, as well as supporting asylum seekers and refugees in Britain and, more recently, in action against climate change.
In July this year, as part of a group of young people from around the world, I went to Geneva to learn about how Quakers are involved in peace work internationally. The Quaker United Nation Office [QUNO], based in a house within a residential part of the city, works on issues of disarmament, human rights and global economics as well as bearing witness to international political discussions.
As part of their work, following Quakers’ tradition of skills in creating dialogue and mediation, QUNO provides a space for United Nations delegates from all countries to gather in informal and off-the-record meetings. Away from the public setting where words and actions are restricted, these meetings, often carried out over a meal, are intended to put members on an equal footing and promote understanding between two sides of an important debate. For those mission delegates from developing countries where resources and experience are often limited, QUNO provides support and helps create useful networks.
In exercising this commitment to dialogue and refraining from the name-and-shame tactics that many NGOs use in this setting, QUNO’s achievements in promoting social justice to international debate are vast and overlooked. Although made up of a small number of staff, over the years the organisation has played an integral role in treaties on landmines and other weapons, bringing the issue of child soldiers to diplomatic discussion and instigating research into peace-building, along with many other issues.
As a faith group, Quakers have the fortunate opportunity of having an organisation that is skilled and well respected within the international diplomatic community, so that our commitment to peace can lead to real results.