The center cannot hold
An alternative voice
April 11, 2002
I have just returned from two inspiring international conferences at Oxford University
and Limassol, Cyprus, held in late March 2002. They were sponsored by a number of
peace research institutes from all over the world. Attended by over 100 peace scholars,
their aim was to study global problems globally through dialogue among scholars from
The conferences concluded that to free the world from violence and injustice, we
desperately need an alternative voice reflecting all traditions of civility. The
two conferences thus launched a three-year research project on the struggle for democracy
in the context of global and regional conflicts. These views stand in sharp contract
to the polarization that is taking place between the voices of centers and peripheries
Following President Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech, cautionary voices from
European and Asian leaders have warned against such polarization. But it is becoming
more and more clear that unless an alternative global voice can emerge to narrow
the global gaps, the world is doomed to a prolonged international strife between
centers and peripheries with disastrous consequences for all.
In this context, former Indonesian President Abdul Rahman Wahid has proposed the
organization of a Bandung II. At the peak of Cold War hostilities, in 1955, Bandung
I was organized as an international movement of non-aligned nations led by Sukarno,
Tito, Nehru, Nasser, and Zhou Enlai.
In 1964, that movement led to the formation of Group 77 at the United Nations. The
group now includes 133 member states from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. To negotiate
for promotion of trade and investment in the less developed countries, that grouping
led to the establishment of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
The world has radically changed since 1955. We are now left with a single superpower
with commanding global military reach. Until such time that European Union, China,
Russia, Japan, or India can muster singly or in alliance any comparable economic
and political power, the world will be a particularly dangerous place. The kinds
of checks and balances that existed during the Cold War will be conspicuous by their
As Harvard's Joseph Nye has wisely pointed out (The Economist, March 23, 2002,
pp. 23-25), for its own sake as well as to protect world peace, the United States
now needs to purse a policy of self-containment. However, the talk of nuking "enemies"
in some U. S. circles is not reassuring.
At this historical juncture, what the world needs is not another state-centered alliance
to promote particular national or regional interests. What the world desperately
needs now is a transnational civil-society movement for global peace and democracy
vis-à-vis the polarized world politics of state and non-state terrorism.
To address the current crisis, world political and moral leaders should get together.
To name only a few, such leaders may include Kofi Anan, Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson,
Vaclav Havel, Abdul Rahman Wahid, Mohammad Khatami, Desmond Tutu, Daisaku Ikeda,
Hans Kung, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jose Ramos-Horta, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, Dalai Lama, Jody
Williams, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Joseph Rotblat, Elie Wiesel, and Oscar Aria (mostly
Nobel Peace Laureates).
Unless such leaders can propose alternative voices and policies to the shrill voices
on the extreme right or the left, the world will have no moral and political center
on which to rely. As William Butler Yeats (The Norton Anthology of Poetry,
p. 520) prophesized in another age of impending disaster:
Things fall apart; the Center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Majid Tehranian is professor of international communication at the University
of Hawaii and director of the Toda Institute
for Global Peace and Policy Research.