Copyright © 2006 Dorian Scott Cole
Where is peace? Many recent events question the very existence of such a concept.
In Darfur, 400,000 innocent people have been slaughtered, or died from starvation. The UN has offered assistance, which the government of Sudan refused, appearing to outside observers to favor those doing the slaughtering. The UN may go in anyway, as NATO did in Kosovo.
In another part of the world, the US and allies are involved in a great war against tyranny in Iraq, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that the only good terrorist is a dead one who dies fighting well away from Western soil. Mounting evidence indicates that the protracted war is polarizing the very population that it is trying to free, polarizing them against the US. This makes many question the role of war in bringing peace, whether or not it is diverting terrorists away from Western interests.
The Western world and the UN turned a blind eye toward Israel as it swept Hezbollah militia (terrorists) from its border in Lebanon, causing massive damage to Lebanon and its fledgling democracy. The Israeli citizens are critically dissecting the military action, wondering if there was any better way to protect themselves than destroying others. Arab Israelis, witnessing more harm to their fellow man, question their allegiance to their neighbors.
Hezbollah, which is devoid of any such concerns of conscience, and citing "God," indiscriminately rained hundreds of missiles on innocent people, many of the victims being of their own ethnicity and religion. To Hezbollah, your own death and that of your neighbors is OK, even desirable, if you can just spread the hate... love?... that drives you... in God's name.
Many in Iraq rallied in the streets for Hezbollah's cause, making people in the US wonder why they were fighting to free Iraq if so many of them favor such terrorists. It gets even stranger. Both sides, Israel and Hezbollah, declared victory. Is such a win-win possible from war and the destruction of many innocent people? In the world of warped and perverse values, such a surreal outcome may actually be possible.
Iran, which supports Hezbollah, and whose President insanely denies the Jewish Holocaust yet maniacally wants to wash the nation of Israel from the map in another Holocaust, threatens the region with attempts to make a nuclear bomb - who knows what diabolical and indiscriminate bombing would follow from that capability.
The Pope (Catholic), hoping to initiate a constructive dialogue about peace with the Muslim community, on the brink of a planned trip to Turkey (an Islamic nation), was misunderstood in his quotations, presumably inciting Muslim rioting around the world. The rioting occurred later, on an uncertain and delayed cue from elsewhere. The Pope made apologetic gestures, amid Muslim suspicions that despite friendly overtures, he is ideologically not any different than any Pope of the Crusades era in which Muslims were slaughtered.
Muslims are currently sensitized and their nerves on edge because of terrorism by extremists who happen to be Muslim, and because of recent rioting and violence in reaction to cartoons depicting the attitudes of a few, but unfortunately picturing and ridiculing the Islamic Prophet. When radical leaders want a demonstration they simply go out and push the buttons of the radicals. What is their real purpose? To keep the Pope off of Muslim soil?
After the uproar over the Pope's statements, Al Qaida (terrorists who did the 9-11 bombing) called for war on the people of the cross (Christians and the Pope). Al Qaida, oblivious to the "Those who cry wolf" story, never misses an opportunity to stir up trouble - and they usually attract certain people, just like the Ku Klux Klan.
It hasn't escaped anyone's attention that the question over Islam being a religion of peace is punctuated by violence by a few at very little provocation. The question now is what will set off another reaction and cause more violence. In other words, what serves the purpose of certain radical leaders?
Following on the heels of these events, both the President of Iran and Hugo Chavez, newly elected socialist-leaning President of Venezuela, sounded off at the UN, name-calling and sounding more like prize fighters verbally sparring to draw a crowd before a match than diplomats pursuing constructive dialogue, dragging the image of foreign leaders to a new low - what kind of bizarre creatures lead this world - and is peace possible in such chaos?
Few words dominate international relations so much as the word "peace." Few ideas are so difficult to achieve. We want peace in families, in communities, within nations, between races, between religions, in our world... but it isn't here.
The word peace conjures images of doves, of love, of goodwill, tranquility, harmony. Can't we all just get along? Reality is that people have wants and needs that conflict with other people's wants and needs. The idea of peace, the idea that there can be peace, the idea that lovely images and good intentions are enough - these come face to face with the important details of life... Johnny wants Sarah's toy, Mike wants to live like Paul, this nation is more powerful than that nation and forces its way, and religion and economics are used as pawns for demanding the other nation do it some their way.
Peace is an ideal. When we think of peace, we think of the ideal, not the conflict that has to be resolved, not the process of how we are going to get to peace, not the power struggles and inflamed passions that stand in the way no matter who is right or wrong. Peace is a wonderful ideal.
But an ideal is not something that can just be placed on people, or accepted by people. Peace doesn't just happen. Peace is something that is achieved through struggle.
Understanding how peace is achieved necessarily means understanding conflict and ways of resolving it. One can read about and discuss an ideal from the comfort of an armchair where lofty ideas can be contemplated without risk, divorced from the truth of reality... never bridging the gap between ideal and practical. The reality is ugly: hatred, killing, mass slaughter of innocent people, terror, inflamed passions, escalation, more killing... And the truth is, many people don't really want peace. They strike each other because they want their way. The road to peace has a major obstacle.
In July 2006, Israel wanted its kidnapped soldiers back and wanted Hamas and Hizbolla terrorists to stop firing rockets into its territory. It wants to live in "peace." By that it means without fear of attack - that necessarily means no Hamas and no Hezbollah, whose only mission is to kill Israel. To get their way the Israelis struck Hamas and Hezbollah repeatedly with armaments, killing both Hamas members and innocent people, inflaming passions and losing sympathy.
Hamas wants Israel, and its powerful dominating force, out of Palestine. Hamas wants to live in peace - by that they mean to live without the influence of Zionists (political movement), which for them has meant generations of mistreatment, destroyed homes, stolen land, and power struggles. They kidnap soldiers and fire rockets into Israel, killing innocent people. Hamas and Hezbollah both hide among innocent people and try to provoke a military action that will get their own population killed - men, women, and children. They know that Israel will respond in a large way, killing innocent people and overreaching militarily with terrible destruction, inflaming passions and creating more enmity between the nations.
Hamas and Hezbollah don't want peace with Israel. They want peace without Israel. They hope to escalate the violence and drag other nations into the conflict. To them, endangering others is OK if it means winning what they want - involve the US, Western world, Syria, Iran. Extremists in both worlds even drag "God" into it, claiming they represent God. Calling on God, endangering innocents, and endangering other nations is simply a ploy to get their way. Imagine what these terrorists would do if they really were in power. Al Qaida is a good example.
Al Qaida, which always talks out of both sides of its mouth, using any ploy to gain support for itself, attempted to draw Islamist Shiites (Shiite is one major religious party within Islam, Suni is the other) into its Web of hate and war. Whose side is Al Qaida actually on? Al Qaida has been stirring up violence by Suni Muslims against Shiites in Iraq. Yet it actually sounded supportive of the Shiite groups Hamas and Hezbollah in their war against Israel. Al Qaida is on its own side - it only knows war. The only notion of peace Al Qaida believes in is to put Usama bin Laden in power over all Islam... all Arab countries.
How we get to peace depends a lot on how we understand peace.
If we understand peace as the absence of conflict... well, that just doesn't happen. As many countries recently noted about the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, simply declaring a cease fire would accomplish nothing - it would simply postpone the inevitable fighting and it would flare up again later. But the risk of letting the battle run its course is that, instead of there being a winner and creating peace, it will fester and escalate into a regional conflict.
World War I should have brought peace to Europe. Germany was defeated. But instead of bringing peace, passions continued to foment into war, and as the Nazis Government built an aggressive empire bent on world domination, World War II erupted. Victory in war doesn't necessarily bring peace, although WWII finally did.
If war doesn't work, will a cease fire? The US created an uneasy peace between North and South Korea in 1950, after 3 million people had been killed in their conflict. A 4 kilometer "Demilitarized Zone" created a buffer between the two countries, and the US military has manned that border since 1950. Technically the two countries have not discontinued their conflict - they have had a cease-fire since 1950 that could erupt into fighting at any time. North Korea maintains its aggressive posture in the world and uses the threat of violence for political purposes - to get what it wants. Failing in that, North Korea now tries to blackmail the region, and even the US, with nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles. North Korea wants to "negotiate," using its military and nuclear threat as leverage to get more.
Iran and Iraq fought each other to a stalemate in the 1980s, killing 1 million people in a contest for superiority in the region. Was it a religious war? No, both countries are primarily Shiite. Border disputes, common for eons in North African and Middle Eastern countries, keep tensions high, and the desire for dominance spurs leaders like Sadam Hussein into conflict. Armaments and poisons were used against cities of people in their war - battles were not limited to between militaries. The conflict ended in a cease-fire when both countries exhausted their armaments and couldn't make any more war. They never agreed to peaceful relations, they only agreed to stop fighting for some period.
Sadam Hussein eventually turned his attention to Kuwait and invaded it. Iran turned its attention to supporting Hezbollah. Do cease-fires make peace? No, they more typically turn their back on the problem of aggressive nations and let hatred and the desire for dominance fester until violence erupts again. Unfortunately when other nations turn their backs on these nations, they cease to have any influence over them and cease to have any constructive communications. International events are a journey of small steps taken by each nation, and each step can either be toward peace or away from it. It is up to leaders to steer which direction it goes.
If a cease fire (not fighting) doesn't work, will negotiations? Those with power achieve peace differently than those who lack power. Negotiating is one avenue to peace. Negotiating often means that whoever is more powerful and shrewd manages to take the most, and the goal of peace is a product of give and take. One power gets something that it wants, while another power gets less. But it often leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the lesser party. The battle may be won, but the war isn't over.
Arbitration is a brokered peace between those of equal power. It takes a third party to step in and work out (or force) a deal between the parties. The peace in Northern Ireland, which is still uneasy but holding, was a peace brokered by third parties. Third parties, help makes sure that neither party unfairly dominates the other and that ways are found to get past impasses. The "Third Side" is the preferred method of William Ury, famed mediator of family, corporate, and international crises, and author of Making Peace.
Polarization and a stand-off result when both parties manage to influence groups into conflicting and irresolvable positions. There is no possible middle ground, no possible compromise, no apparent path to peace. It is a path of insured mutual destruction in which there are no winners. It is the path demanded by Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorists.
All is not lost - polarized communities can find effective ways to live in peace. The US (and allies) and former Soviet Union once reached a point of "Peaceful Coexistence." They agreed to disagree. They achieved this form of peace through a path that led through the insanity of "Mutual Assured Destruction" (MAD). They agreed not to defend themselves against a nuclear missile attack - only to counterattack. So if one country sent nuclear bombs, the other would respond in kind - assuring the destruction of both. It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world. It was insane, but it stopped much of the ongoing destruction that was taking place every day.
Today the path trod in US politics, by activist groups, by terrorists, and others, is the path of extreme polarization. Rather than strive for a constructive discourse in which the other's position can be understood and conflict resolved, the proponents strive to capture the large middle-ground and polarize it. It causes stalemate and overreactions. But such stalemates eventually crumble. Those who want to get their way at any cost might keep in mind President Clinton's words, quoted above: "Everyone knows within 5 degrees what the agreement is going to look like. The only question is, 'How many people are going to die before we get there?'"
Win-win is a solution in which both parties get what they want. But both parties must have reasonable goals in mind. If Peter wants Mike's bat, and Mike wants Peter's ball, they could go to war over what they want, or they could go play ball together so that both win.
Peace is an achievable ideal. There will always be the potential for conflict. Peter will always want Mike's bat. But if Peter and Mike know paths to walk to get to peace, then there can always be peace. Studying conflict resolution is the way to know the basics about how to make peace.
Peace isn't something that can just happen. Peace is a process. It is a way of living - orchestrating good relations between people. It's about respect and social justice. It's about abilities and methods of achieving peace. The word peace is a noun that should be a verb that describes an active state of being and the process of achieving it.
Note: My view is that you can never stop negotiating. When you are not talking, you are going backward into radicalism and violence and people get demoralized, lose hope, and despair leads to radicalism and fertile recruiting grounds for extremists and terrorists. Each step backward brings you closer to war. You can't quit talking. Each time you reach an agreement, you must agree in principle to hold it, and move forward, even if it is incrementally slow - forward is forward, progress is progress, and each step forward leads to peace.
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