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Active peace
Instead of an interlude between wars

May 16, 2000
The Iranian

The peace of a cemetery is passive peace. Active peace is when the human community is engaged in constructing those delicate social and affective ties of love and meaning that turn life into a wondrous and creative journey. As the Japanese Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda puts it eloquently, "peace cannot be a mere stillness, a great interlude between wars. It must be a vital and energetic arena of life-activity, won through our own volitional, proactive efforts. Peace must be a living drama."

To achieve active peace in the long run, the United Nations has rightly put its emphasis this year on the development of a culture of peace. But before we can develop a culture of peace, we must understand what is a culture of violence. At its roots, a culture of violence is embedded in fetishism of commodities and identities, i. e. excessive attachment to material and ideational "possessions" in defense of which we are willing to resort to violence. Wars are often waged in the name of defending material interests or ideological goals. In fact, of course, ideological pretensions often cover up cynical material interests. Many wars in history have been fought in the name of God, Christianity, Islam, and even Buddhism, as committed as Buddhism is to non-violence. As Ikeda poignantly puts it, "any time religion renders people passive and powerless [and one might add violent], it deserves the dishonorable title of 'opiate.'" The word "assassin" is derived from "hashashin", a medieval religious sect that employed hallucinatory drugs to drive its devotees to acts of terrorism.

What constitutes a culture of peace? In a globalizing world, this means above all the acceptance of complexity, ambiguity, and difference. Resort to simplistic dichotomies of the world between good and evil, cowboys and Indians, the West and the Rest are prescriptions for a culture of violence. But as Ikeda wisely points out, fetishism of complexity, ambiguity, and difference in relativist doctrines also is a prescription to passivity and powerlessness. Despite significant differences among us as individuals and nations, we are all universally endowed with human reason, rights, and responsibilities. Each civilization has defined these reasons, rights, and responsibilities in its own way. For the third time in human history, globalization is bringing the world civilizations into direct contact. Clash and dialogue of civilizations happened first along the ancient trade routes (the Silk and Spice Roads), the world's first global economy. Contact among civilizations also happened for a second time when European colonial domination divided the third world into satrapies. Violence and domination mostly characterized this round. However, we are now into a third phase of contact among civilizations in which the rise of Asia, Africa, and Latin America is requiring equal time and treatment from the dominant West. The West may heed this call or, alternatively, resort to violence in defense of its material interests and ideological claims. That is what will determine the fate of the 21st century.

The peace proposals that Ikeda has put forth this year provide imaginative solutions to some of the world's most protracted problems. To pre-empt violent conflict, he has proposed a standing Global Forum under the auspices of the United Nations to air out the grievances of the parties to any world conflict. This should be organized differently from the UN General Assembly's "talk shop." Instead of providing a platform for official government positions, the Forum must provide a world venue for genuine dialogue among the stakeholders in any conflict, including state and non-state actors. To lead to containment rather than exacerbation of conflict, the Forum must be organized and conducted by conflict resolution experts whose integrity and impartiality are beyond question.

Ikeda's persistent call for a UN People's Assembly can be combined with the Global Forum to further democratize the United Nations and facilitate its transformation from a peace enforcement to a peace building organization. Maintaining the integrity of a Global Forum, voicing the views of all parties to a dispute, can be made a major function of a UN People's Assembly. In this fashion, world peace through world dialogue can receive a new meaning and reality.

His proposal for a Peace University in Mongolia to bring the Northeast Asian nations together in pursuit of knowledge and cooperation is most timely. The idea could be furthered by the establishment of Peace Universities in other regions of the world where the young are often taught to stereotype and hate rather than understand and appreciate others. A Peace University in Okinawa, for instance, can bring students from Mainland China, Taiwan, the two Koreas, Japan, and Southeast Asia to live, to learn, and to work together to build a more peaceful region. Located at equidistant from Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, and Manila, Okinawa or Ryukyu has historically been a Pacific crossroads and can play a significant role in regional peacebuilding.

Ultimately, however, active peace depends on an active spiritual tradition for peace. That is why dialogue of civilizations through world science, art, literature, and religion is critical to the building of firm foundations for world citizenship and responsibility. The contributions of great scientific, artistic, and literary minds are currently being commodified by an intellectual property regime that gives their corporate owners the right to control their dissemination for profit. The creation of a Global Commons Fund to support scientific, artistic, and literary creations supporting world peace and citizenship can contribute immensely to the development of a culture of peace.

In collaboration with La Trobe University and Focus on Global South, the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research is offering such a proposal to the United Nations. Ikeda's proposals for global governance reform along those offered by other non-governmental organizations can pave the way for a century more peaceful than the previous one.


Majid Tehranian is professor of international communication at the University of Hawaii and director of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research. His latest books are Restructuring for World Peace: At the Threshold of the 21st Century (1992), Global Communication and World Politics: Domination, Development, and Discourse (1999), Worlds Apart: Human Security and Global Governance (1999), and Asian Peace: Security and Governance in the Asia Pacific Region (1999).

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