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Commemoration and Community

The Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation workshop provided a space for participants to critically examine and challenge how commemorative practices contribute to and challenge post-war reconstruction and reconciliation.

This second Textual Commemoration workshop in the Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Series brought together experts in the fields of literature, human rights, peace building, and community initiatives to examine how individuals and communities commemorate and heal post-conflict and terrorism. Are healing and reconciliation possible? What role does commemoration play in this process? And do individuals and communities ever really recover from terrorism?

The room fell silent to mark Remembrance Day—another reminder that the legacy of war hangs over us everywhere—even if we as a society don’t really discuss this legacy beyond the day of remembrance.

The conversation in the workshop flowed from historical trauma and the crime of the Holocaust to the First World War to post-Gaddafi Misrata to terrorism Britain and the aftermath of the London tube bombings on 7/7 and the multiple terrorism attacks in London and Manchester this year.

We discussed how witnessing violence and terrorism impacts individuals and communities and often compounds the need for humans to share the same space as each other—sometimes there isn’t a need for a single word to pass or any physical contact between the collective. One powerful example discussed was London firefighters huddled together after their shift at Grenfell: dog-tired and in shock, the men sat in silence on the ground as an act of solidarity—the seed of commemoration.

There was an acknowledgment that around the world a hierarchy of suffering exists that propels how war and conflict is commemorated. All human life is not equal—it is indexed and coded based on each of our intersectional identities, the first category being race. It is through this lens that commemoration, reconstruction and reconciliation are also framed— which is why terrorism in the first world, Western Europe, is rarely connected to and discussed in parallel with war and devastation in the rest of the world.

Acts of commemoration and reconstruction are deeply political and often polorising. The act of remembrance is also never neutral. How we commemorate and whom we commemorate is a reminder of this.

You can watch the panellists’ presentations from the workshop here.

Shaista Aziz

Shaista Aziz is an Oxford based freelance journalist, writer, and equalities campaigner.