How do you create the conditions for peacefulness in a place like Iraq that has been in such intense, destructive conflict for so long? How do you use yourself as an outsider to support people on the ground who wish to create a different kind of future for their children? And how do you go about setting up academic programs, in war-torn countries or peaceful ones, that rigorously train students in the best methods for creating the conditions for peacefulness?
Thomas Hill speaks to all of these questions on this episode of The Peacebuilding Podcast: Bridging the Divide. With his mellifluous voice (that this podcaster believes should be put to use on radio), Tom talks about his near singular focus on Iraq over 16 years and 35 trips.
Tom, aka Dr. Hill, is a clinical associate professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University’s School of Professional Studies, where he is the Director of the Initiative for Peacebuilding through Education. He is a peacebuilding practitioner, researcher and has developed a series of inter-related projects focused on increasing levels of peacefulness in Iraq.
Tom talks about his journey into the peacebuilding field through journalism as well as his creation of NYU’s Peacebuilding concentration. He reflects on the changing perceptions about the Peacebuilding field from those who still think it’s a 1960’s holdout, to those who now accept it as becoming mainstream e.g. the U.S. State Department. He describes why students come to the NYU program, what they learn, and what they do when they leave.
Most importantly, Tom talks in great detail about the his work in Iraq over the last 16 years and how he and Iraqi partners have gradually created academic but activist conflict resolution centers that are ground zero for those who are done with the destruction around them, and 100% committed to finding a different path.
With poignant clarity, he shares his first moments in Iraq in 2003, enjoying beautiful food and wonderful Iraqi hospitality in a home with a kalashnikov leaning against every window, dark moments over the years turning into brighter ones, the serendipity of the worst events like ISIL taking over Mosul being the impetus for the University of Mosul to consider development of a program in peace studies.
In keeping with the theme of those interviewed on The Peacebuilding Podcast, Tom talks about the structural or systemic changes that are necessary, in Iraq, the United States and elsewhere, for peacefulness to really take hold. He gives listeners his top three insights and learnings from the work in Iraq, his favorite book on building peace, and the tool or technique from Bill Ury that he has found most useful overall.
If you are someone who is tired of our public conversation that is dominated by destructive, violent conflict and are thinking about how peace really can be built, listen to this creative, upbeat voice and become inspired about lessons you can immediately put to work!