Nonviolence doesn't always seem to work - but neither does military might.
That was Professor Norman Kember's response to questions at the annual Global Student Forum (GSF) for sixth formers held at the Emmanuel Centre, Westminster, attended by a Government minister and where conflict resolution was a major theme.
"I think people are very ignorant of the scope of non-violent protest," Kember told the forum. "There are hundreds of examples of it working - the deposition of Ferdinand Marcos in the Phillippines, for example - and in very difficult circumstances. People don't realise the power of non-violence."
In 2005, as a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq, Kember was taken hostage with three others. He was later freed unharmed during a raid led by British Special Forces.
"Non-violent protest doesn't leave behind the legacy of hatred caused by military action," declared Kember. "I think there are acts of justice within war but one of the facts of war is to demonise the enemy."
Responding to Kember, Brigadier Roddy Porter, who has served in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kuwait and is due to tour Iraq, said: "Going to war is the worst thing to do except if not going to war is even worse. The only just cause is defence against injustice. It must not be proactive, for retribution or revenge."
Organised by the Damaris Trust, GSF has been held each year since 2005 and is run in partnership with the Department for International Development (DFID). It is also supported by War Child, Christian Aid and World Vision and aims to enable school students to think through spiritual, moral, social and cultural issues underlying global citizenship. More than 380 students from 42 schools came to the event, with one group of students travelling to London from as far away as Lancaster.
Addressing the forum, Gareth Thomas, Minister for International Development, said: "We know that building and sustaining peace is possible - we've seen it in Rwanda. But we also know there is still a huge challenge ahead around the world to reduce poverty and conflict. Support of the British public and interest from students like you is helping to build a better world."
The impact of conflict-related poverty on children, and in particular the recruitment of child soldiers, was a major theme. Musician Ben Okafor, 53, a former child soldier, sang two songs. There were messages from other child soldiers by video. Students from Tendring Technology College had interviewed Luis Samacumbi, now of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola and remarked how much impact his story had upon them.
Nick Pollard, co-founder of GSF and the Damaris Trust, said: "I was excited to see so many sixth formers enthusiastic about making this a better world. The forum has lived up to its name - an opportunity to explore a range of views on conflict resolution and peace. I am encouraged how passionately and eloquently students engaged in debate."
Plans are already underway for the next forum, which will take place in London in July 2009. There are tentative plans to organise similar events in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - and possibly abroad.
Buy from Ekklesia: 118 Days, Christian Peacemakers Held in Iraq, edited by Tricia Gates Brown (CPT, 2008), which includes a chapter by Simon Barrow and Tim Nafziger on reporting in the UK. http://tinyurl.com/3z6pqm