Security and Peace

Self determination, social justice and peace all require a healthy civil society, and a healthy civil society requires security. I do not mean to reduce an infinitely complex process into a simple equation, but this is something that I believe. The paradox of the 2004 tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia, is a case in point. I was in Banda Aceh with the NGO Forum Asia in June, 2005, about six months after the tragic wave that devastated the entire coast of the province, washing away a good part of the capitol city.

During the three decades prior to the tsunami, the region had been virtually cut off from the outside world as the Indonesian army and separatists fought for control of Aceh. Civil society existed in a state of arrested development; local institutions were often co-opted by either the army or the separatists, activists and normal people feared engaging in any sort of politics social organizing, because both armed sides had practiced the harassment, murder, and “disappearance” of many that were seen as threats. Unable to develop its civil society, the people of Aceh had no opportunity to enjoy self determination.

Here is the paradox of the tsunami: while it was a horrible event that took hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed what economy there was, it also resulted in a degree of security. Military action ceased, and the sudden, massive presence of the international community meant that armed actors on either side could no longer do as they pleased in their quest for control.

Since that time, civil society in Aceh has seen steady growth, and the people are now living under an elected government.

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