By Coen Veerman and Pim Gerritsen [See below for the images and videos of the road trip]
In a bright orange minivan we travelled more than 800 km through different cities and places in the Netherlands to drink a Bakkie met een Irakkie (a cup of coffee with an Iraqi). We invited people passing by to have a cup of coffee with our guests. Our goal? There’s a lot of attention for Iraq and the current war, the focus lies on the extreme violence and brutality. Nevertheless, despite all this violence there are still people who are peacefully working for more tolerance and understanding among different communities. We wanted to give the Dutch people the opportunity to hear that other side of the story.
Ali and Zuhair are both peace activists from Iraq. Ali is Shia’ and Zuhair is Yezidi. They both met through the PAX program Kulluna Muwatinun. A program focussing on minority rights and citizenship within Iraq. Being ambassadors, Ali and Zuhair, aim to create dialogue between different sectarian groups. This message of understanding and tolerance is the story they wanted to share with the people they’re meeting this week, especially since these issues lie at the base of the current conflict and radicalization. In their opinion the information provided by the media is too much focussed on violence. “You maybe wouldn’t say so but there are still peaceful activists like ourselves”. Both activists recognize that dealing with issues as extremism need a more comprehensive approach than just bombing. “The need to combat the distrust and sectarianism in Iraqi society is essential to target the deeper lying roots of this conflict.”
One of the many interesting encounters we had during our road trip was a meeting with activists from Serbia and Kosovo. The goal was to stimulate the exchange of activists from different contexts, something that Peace Activism 2.0 program aims to do. Despite the very different context these activists are working in, the overlap was very clear: they all aim at preventing violence by creating dialogue and providing information about ‘the other’. The meeting resulted in a lively exchange of all kinds of ideas concerning activism, future actions and strategies.
After more than 800 kilometres, numerous conversations and cups of coffee we evaluated our road trip and student-meetings with Ali and Zuhair. In all their honesty they admitted that at first they were sceptic on what such a road trip would lead to. There main concern: ‘Why should we talk to random people in the street?’
They assured us that this concern had disappeared completely. The need to include all kinds of people in the topics discussed, the need to make your cause visible in the streets and the attention that was raised for their cause on Dutch national radio, television and newspapers was tremendous and very important.
In the words of Zuhair:
‘Before I went to the Netherlands I never imagined how easy it could be to informally discuss political matters with citizens and policy makers at the same time on the streets. The last days I learned that real democracy takes place on the streets. I will definitely use this insight and inspiration.’
Een Bakkie met een Irakkie was a learning, inspiring and above all fun experience for all people involved. On the one hand it offered people on the street a hopeful story about peace activists in Iraq (and the mere existence of these initiatives!), on the other hand we all went home with an unforgettable experience and the motivation to continue with what we do: supporting Peace Activists!
[Stop 3: Plein, Den Haag where we spoke to member of Parliament Harry van Bommel]
[First two minutes of this item can be found HERE]