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Imagine: Reflections on Peace

Posted on October 03, 2020 - By VII Foundation
Imagine: Reflections on Peace
Imagine: Reflections on Peace

This book is dedicated to those who are living in war while imagining peace, and those who are brave enough to build it.

In an increasingly violent and chaotic world, one fueled by raging culture wars and civil strife, finding the courage to identify, envision, and cultivate peace can seem the most elusive of capabilities. How do you imagine hope in a seemingly hopeless situation? And once that hope is imagined, how do you manifest those dreams into a sustained reality?

These are the questions at the heart of IMAGINE: REFLECTIONS ON PEACE (Hemeria/SparkPress, October 6, 2020) by The VII Foundation (VIIF), a stunning, remarkable collection of first-person testimonials and searing photographs from some of the world's most volatile war zones. In 2018, the VII Foundation asked more than a dozen renowned reporters and photojournalists to revisit countries with which they had become achingly familiar during times of brutal conflict. The task was to see peace through the prism of their journalistic experience; to survey familiar towns and villages; to reconnect with women, men, soldiers, civilians, statesmen, and students who had survived the conflict or grown up in the postwar society; to discover what the lived experience of peace feels like in the aftermath of such brutal violence. To augment this reportage, input from academics and peacemakers were sought to frame the larger discussion while intensely personal stories from citizens of those countries were also included to give a human face to the truth as seen and experienced by those who lived it.

Don McCullin

© Don McCullin/Contact Press Images

Palestinians flee attack. Up to 1,500 Palestinians died in the Karantina massacre by Christian Falangist gunmen, Beirut, 1976.

The resulting collection-which also includes an Introduction from former U.K. chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, and an Afterword from Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power-stands as a powerful curation of visual and literary testaments to the physical, psychological, and systemic toll of war, as well as both the challenging short and long-term tasks of rebuilding societal trust as a means for creating lasting peace.

Nichole Sobecki

© Nichole Sobecki/VII

Revelers enjoy ‘80s night at B 018–one of Beirut’s most legendary clubs–built in the Karantina quarter of Beirut. In 1976 a Christian militia attacked and evicted the Palestinian refugee population, killing 1,500 people, in what became known as the Karantina massacre.

IMAGINE focuses on six distinct countries-Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Colombia, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, and Rwanda-to illustrate the difficult work being done to break the foundational cycles of conflict and violence that has marked each's immediate history. Whether it's a renowned war journalist reassessing their purpose, an acclaimed photographer reflecting on the images captured by their camera, a former diplomat considering the cycles of history, or a survivor looking forward to a better world ahead, each of the deeply personal narratives in IMAGINE provides a provocative and thoroughly insightful look at not only what the peace process means to each individual and community, but also (and maybe most importantly) the nuanced, hard-won lessons behind what it means to actually build peace, in ways that are authentic, lasting, and account for the generational distrust and resentment that threaten to undermine it. What emerges is an utterly human assessment of where we stand as a global community and a stirring call to action to do and be better-and ultimately break the legacy of violence that has marked so much of our collective history.

This book would not be possible without the generosity of Jennifer Stengaard Gross and Peter Stengaard of Blue Chip Foundation, as well as the William, Jeff, and Jennifer Gross Family Foundation. Learn more information at and

Roland Neveu

© Roland Neveu

A Cambodian government soldier fires his outdated M1 carabine at the Khmer Rouge from a foxhole. Kien Svay, Route 1, August 1973.

Gary Knight is co-founder and principle architect of the VII Photo Agency, co-founder of the VII Foundation and founder of the VII Academy. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Frontline Club, London; co-founder of The GroundTruth Project, Boston; founding Director of the Program for Narrative & Documentary Practice at Tufts University; twice Chair and President of the World Press Photo Award; was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2009, a Logan Non Fiction Fellow at the Carey Institute in 2017, and is an acclaimed photographer.

Constance Hale is an award-winning writer, editor, and author of six books, including Wired Style and Sin and Syntax.

Fiona Turner is an Emmy award winning broadcast journalist, producer, and documentarian.

Ron Haviv is a co-founder of the VII photo agency and the VII Foundation. He has won multiple awards for his photojournalism.

Gary Knight

© Gary Knight/VII

Cambodia opposition political activists Sin Chanpouraseth, Chay Vannak, Ney Leak and Douch Sovunth. Children in rural Cambodia go to school for two hours, and often there are no teachers. I went to a university that closed because it was bankrupt, then I went into politics. Meanwhile in Phnom Penh the government builds skyscrapers. The well-being of the people doesn't require skyscrapers, it requires jobs. We work in the morning to eat in the afternoon. We are victims, we are poor and we want change. We do not have peace, there is no fighting anymore, but there is a spiritual and physical war being fought against us. Politics here are so tense I am not sure if I will be killed. The government rules by fear, and will do anything to maintain power. If we are strong, maybe change will materialize.

The photographic essays were commissioned from photographers whose lives have been dedicated to covering war and its aftermath. Gilles Peress essay from Northern Ireland spans decades, and Stephen Ferry follows the literal path to peace as he accompanies the FARC out of the Colombian jungle towards a decommissioned future. Don McCullin gives us a visceral view of Beirut in war in the late 1970's, and Nichole Sobecki takes us to its streets today. Ron Haviv documented the war in Bosnia and returned to find the changes, a generation later, much fewer than expected. In Cambodia, Roland Neveu was photographing when the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh; 45 years later, Gary Knight photographs individuals who still live in the wake of war. Finally, through Nicole Tung's lens, we get glimpses of the fragile yet emerging peace that can be found in Mosul and Raaqa.

Jack Picone

© Jack Picone

An RPF soldier (Rwandan Patrioric Front) advancing in Gikoro district, 1994.

Jack Picone

© Jack Picone

Motorcycle taxis operate in Kigali's Central Business District. The mototaxi culture has allowed tens of thousands of Rwandans to become small-scale entrepreneurs. Legislation enforces the use of motorcycle helmets by all riders. The government now wants to convert gas mototaxis to electric mototaxis. Kigali, Rwanda, 2017

Over twenty testimonials explore the experience of post-conflict life which happens at both the national and the deeply personal level. In Beirut, veteran reporter Robin Wright sees the clash between past inertia, often reflected in the older generation, and progress and unity, embraced by a younger generation starting new restaurants and experimenting with new forms of leisure. Meanwhile, Mira Sidawi, a Palestinian artist living within a refugee camp, sweeps us along in her dreams of freedom. We see from Philip Gourevitch's reporting how the nation of Rwanda has made surprising advances. Yet for Rwandan survivor Dydine Umanyana, three years old at the time of the genocide, peace didn't come until after years of enduring the trauma of domestic violence. We rarely hear about such postscripts to conflict, but Elizabeth D. Herman offers her own research on the PTSD that surfaces in the wake of war.

Peace processes are rarely straightforward. Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and chief negotiator for the Good Friday negotiations in Northern Ireland, describes how both sides need to take risks in breaching the divide between governments and combatants. Shared risks can foster a bond, he says of secretive and risky meetings with the IRA, early on. Padraig O'Malley, academic and peacemaker, doubles down on the need for bravery amongst adversaries with his role of middleman in bringing together a remarkable meeting between the ANC, Sinn Fein and the Northern Irish political parties that eventually helped pave the way to an IRA ceasefire and the opening of the peace talks. That the efforts paid off was also a credit to the determined presence of bipartisan women present at the talks. Monica McWilliams and Avila Kilmurray recount the part played by the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, which brought focus to civic issues that were otherwise ignored by the major parties. The role of women is further explored by academic researcher Marie O'Reilly, in The Essential Presence of Women in Peace.

Ron Haviv

© Ron Haviv/VII

Nedžiba Salihović, who lost her husband and son in the Srebrenica massacre, screams at a UN soldier in a refugee camp in Tuzla, July 17, 1995.

It is possible to identify some preconditions for successful peace. The documentary filmmaker Margarita Martinez watched the peace talks in Havana, where the government of Colombia and FARC guerrillas faced off. They broke through their terse standoff only after witnessing the searing testimony of victims and settling on a formula for restorative justice. Others add to Martinez's portrait. South Africa's truth and reconciliation commissions, and Rwanda's gacaca tribunals were keys to peace in those countries. Justice Richard Goldstone writes about the role of the International Criminal Courts in a world where there are few clear victors to set the terms, and where simple amnesties for both sides may be impossible. Anthony Loyd eloquently writes about how forgiveness allows some in Bosnia and Herzegovina to move forward, and Elvis Garibovic writes from his own experience of ethnic cleansing and how he came to terms and moved on.

Politics and politicians-and the governments they create-are essential to allowing peace to take flower-or founder. Predrag Peđa Kojović tells a cautionary tale of a constitution imposed on a populace in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the dysfunctional system that resulted. Jon Lee Anderson, reporting on Colombia, shows how one leader can invest in peace, only to have democratic processes threaten that effort. And Jon Swain, who was present when Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge, finds a corrupt government in place today. A peaceful society is not necessarily a just society, or even a thriving one.

Finally, in a forward-looking afterword, Samantha Power makes the case for the book, arguing that we have a responsibility to scrutinize efforts to establish peace with the rigor we bring to analyzing the causes and consequences of conflict. Above all, we must increase efforts in diplomacy and conflict resolution at an early stage.

Ron Haviv

© Ron Haviv/VII

In 2017 Nedžiba Salihović and other Srebrenica widows celebrate the conviction of Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić for his role in the 1995 genocide at Srebrenica. Salihović lost her husband and son in the massacre

Praise for IMAGINE:

These searing images and moving essays teach us much about the lessons of history, the costs of war, and the overlooked challenges of achieving lasting peace. The honesty and introspection of the contributors also reminds us that the gaps that exist between peoples can be bridged; wounds can be healed; hatreds can be dissolved; and the once unthinkable can become reality - if there is a willingness to pursue dialogue and embrace our common humanity. Imagine: Reflections on Peace is a timely and important call to action.
Madeleine K. Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State

Powerful, persuasive and forensic, this book will open your eyes, challenge your assumptions, and deepen your understanding of war and the people who survive it. It shows that war doesn't end with the signing of a peace treaty, or when a situation has faded from the news headlines. At a time when more people are displaced by war and oppression today than at any period since the Second World War, this calls for a new generation of negotiators to step forward. Above all, it is a tribute to the victims of war, and to all those who never give up the struggle to achieve stability, justice and good governance in their countries.
Angelina Jolie, UNHCR Special Envoy

Gilles Peress

© Gilles Peress/Magnum/for Imagine: Reflections on Peace

Balaclavas at night, Derry, North of Ireland, 1996.

This magnificent collection of photography and narrative gives us a moving, searing portrayal of war-torn places in the aftermath of violence. Renowned photojournalists and writers return to the scene of brutal conflicts to document people's inspiring attempts to rebuild their lives and to imagine what peace really means. The result is a stirring meditation on peace as an unfinished project, precariously poised between memory and forgiveness.
Michael J. Sandel, political philosopher, Harvard University, author of Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

I found this book powerful in its evocation of the great suffering of the last half-century's wars, wise in recognizing that their painful legacy long endures, and inspiring in showing reconciliation in action. Most moving to me: seeing those who negotiated South Africa's transition to democracy help bring Northern Ireland's warring factions to the bargaining table. Peace, like war, can be contagious.
Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost and To End All Wars

The story of war's aftermath is ancient: the bleeding stops, the spotlight points elsewhere, the ruins are left in darkness. It is the genius of the editors of Imagine: Reflections on Peace to recognize that only after the guns grow silent does the true story begin: of how human beings reconstruct their lives, of how murderers become neighbors, of how justice returns - or doesn't. For anyone who has consumed narratives of war and violence, who has gazed into the whirlpools of history and violence, who craves beautiful writing and lifechanging images, Imagine is an essential book.
Mark Danner, author of Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War

Gilles Peress

© Gilles Peress/Magnum/for Imagine: Reflections on Peace

Asian woman at Peace Wall, Border Road, North of Ireland, 2019.

Stephen Ferry

© Stephen Ferry

A FARC fighter washes her clothes on an overnight stop in the town of Rio Mina, in the Upper Naya region on the trek out of the jungle to the decommissioning centers. Rio Mina was the epicenter of a massacre by paramilitaries in 2001 in which up to 110 civilians were killed

Stephen Ferry

© Stephen Ferry

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos shakes hands with Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timochenko, top commander of the FARC insurgent army, at a celebration for the completion of the FARC's disarmament.

Nicole Tung

© Nicole Tung

Fighters with the Free Syrian Army on the front line. With limited access to arms, FSA rebels resorted to making their own weapons. Aleppo, Syria, November 2012

Nicole Tung

© Nicole Tung

Schoolgirls arrive at a recently reopened school. For many students, this is the first time they have been able to attend school in years. Western Mosul, Iraq, November 2018.

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