June 11, 2002
Interview for the Italian journal, Buddhism and Society.
After the attack on the Twin Towers, do you think that we need to start a
deep dialogue with Arab World?
Majid Tehranian: In this context, the term "Arab World" is not
appropriate. It is more inclusive if we say the "Islamic World", which
is a larger and more complex entity. This world includes some 1.2 billion people,
including Muslim Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Turks, Persians, Indonesians, etc. Most
of the Muslims live outside of the Arab World. To have a meaningful dialogue with
any religious group, you have to understand them first. We need to listen carefully
and to get to know them deeply. The Islamic world is extremely diverse, composed
of different countries, cultures, generations, social classes, and ideological tendencies.
It is an illusion to believe that the Islamic World is homogenous and monolithic.
When did you begin your collaboration with Soka Gakkai and Daisaku Ikeda?
Majid Tehranian: In 1992 I set out on a journey along The Silk Road. I
started from Honolulu, traveling to Japan, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan,
Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran.
In the 13th century, Marco Polo had traveled along this route from the opposite direction,
from Rome to Beijing. The Silk Road was the main route for cultural and commercial
exchanges between Europe and Asia. For centuries, a dialogue among European and Asian
civilizations took place along this route. As a result, Central Asia became the melting
pot of many cultures and traditions. The Iranians first conquered the region and
named it Iyrana, meaning the Land of Aryans. The Greeks led by Alexander of Macedonia
conquered the region in the 4th century B.C. The Greeks occupied Central Asia for
the next two centuries. The Kushan dynasty, lasting from about 2nd century B.C. to
3rd century A.D., ruled the region and brought Mahayana Buddhism to Central Asia.
Bamian, a vast plain surrounded by mountains near Kabul, became a gathering place
for Buddhists. This is where several statutes of Buddha, the highest at 53 meters,
stood until the Taliban destroyed them in 2001. The city of Bokhara in Uzbekistan
was originally a Buddhist Temple, which is what Bokhara means. Thus, in the Central
Asian melting pot, a synthesis of different religions and civilizations took shape.
Following the Islamic conquest, a mystical branch of Islam known as Sufism emerged
in this region. Sufism resembles Buddhism in its emphasis on a sense of wonder, inner
spirituality and divinity.
When I went to Tokyo in 1992 I met Daisaku Ikeda for a brief meeting. But our conversation
lasted for three hours. We talked about the Silk Road and its role in the dialogue
between Buddhism and Islam. I was astonished about his extraordinary knowledge of
the culture of this area. We talked about Rumi (Jalal ed-Din Rumi, Poesie mistiche,
Bur, 1980, trad. A. Bausani), the great Sufi poet of the 13th century. Rumi wrote
in a long poem, "Oh, I know not myself. I'm neither Muslim, nor a Christian,
nor a .... I belong to the Spirit of the spirits" (p. 63).
That kind of universal spirit, reflecting Buddhism and Sufism, is particularly represented
by the Soka Gakkai. I found Ikeda Sensei a kindred spirit to Rumi, Hafez, and other
Sufi poets and philosophers. He knew them all. That delighted me. When I went back
to my hotel I wrote a poem for him. I quoted Rumi, who sang in one poem, "there
are many Turks who speak Turkish but don't understand each other. But there are many
Hindus and Turks who speak differently but talk the language of the heart, and they
understand each other." I told Ikeda, "We speak the language of the heart,
you are Japanese, I am Persian, you are Buddhist, I am Muslim, but we come together,
and we understand each other." That was the beginning of our friendship and
What do you think about the figure of President Ikeda as a messenger of peace
and as a statesman in this period of history?
Majid Tehranian: Ikeda sensei, before anyone else I know, has pioneered
dialogue among civilizations. He has held about 1500 dialogues with world leaders.
In all these dialogues, he has tried to demonstrate the essential unity of spiritual
traditions. I think that is what this world needs at the present time. But he is
not a woolly-headed philosopher just talking about abstract concepts. He is a very
practical man. In his annual peace proposals he addresses practical issues. This
combination of spirituality and practicality is unique. However, I am very happy
that he is not in politics. Politics often corrupts you.
Look at Gandhi's choice at the time of Indian independence. Gandhi was perhaps the
most popular Indian in all of history. He could have easily become the chief of the
new independent Indian state. But he turned that down. He was intensely interested
in political problems particularly those bearing on peace among Hindus and Muslims.
But he wisely refused to accept any official position in independent India. He continued
to be a spiritual leader, for which he paid a very high price by his martyrdom. He
maintained an authentic voice for non-violence. When you are in politics you have
to make all kinds of compromises. You cannot speak with a strong voice. Struggles
for worldly power ultimately lead to the exercise of violence. That is the nature
In that sense, I think that Ikeda sensei is a very unique person. Very well equipped
and positioned to look to the future, the distant future, hundred years, two hundred
years, three hundred years. He can say, this is a global society. We need global
institutions, we need to develop them, we need global citizens. SGI members are pioneers.
A book has just come out on the SGI with the title of Global Citizens. I think that
it is the best characterization of the SGI movement. However, that doesn't mean that
you cannot be a loyal Italian, Persian, or Egyptian. In our globalizing world, local
and national citizenships are necessary but not sufficient. We need to be global
citizens at the same time.
Do you think that a religion must be socially and politically engaged?
Majid Tehranian: Yes. But in all religions, you have contradictory tendencies.
On the one hand, you have people who say, I want to save myself. In some branches
of Buddhism, you go to the top of the mountain, become a monk, meditate to reach
nirvana, in isolation by yourself. That's one tendency. The other tendency is to
say, my religion tells me it is the only truth. Therefore, I want to convert everyone.
I also want to take over the government, I want to run the show according to the
Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, or Confucian precepts. These are two contradictory
tendencies. You can call one asceticism, the other militancy. You find them in every
religion without exception.
The wisest course, however, is the moderate middle way. That means to maintain a
spiritual inner world, not to be corrupted by politics, by money, by the many worldly
temptations, but at the same time, to continue to be engaged in the world. To be
in this world but not of this world. Ikeda sensei is a kind of bodhivisttva who has
reached a level of spiritual freedom to allow him to spread the mission of peace
In certain countries, the clerics have taken over power or are trying to. Here in
Firenze you had Savonarola, for a few months. He ruled Firenze with an iron hand,
he burned, killed, because he wanted Firenze to become purely Christian. I call this
tendency in all religions "the illusion of purity." There is nothing pure
in this world. This world is very impure, we are all very impure, we are all imprisoned
within this body, we have needs, we have pains, aches, we age. That's normal for
human beings. You have to free yourself from it, you have to get out of this box
which is your body and look at yourself and see that there is a connection with the
rest of humanity, a connection with your children, with younger people, with people
from other countries. The body is both a source of pleasure and suffering. The suffering
increases as we get older. Unless you can get out of this prison you are not going
to be able to overcome the suffering and reach spiritual freedom. That freedom is
best achieved through a loving engagement with the world. The 13th century Sufi poet
Saadi has said, "worship is nothing but serving the people; worship is not a
prayer rug, a begging bowl, or a rosary."
For me that is the kind of middle way that has to be promoted. The type of Buddhism
that SGI represents has been called Engaged Buddhism by my good friend Professor
David Chappell. I want to have engaged Muslims, not the Mullas taking over the government.
That's terrible for them, terrible for Islam, terrible for the people. There is a
lot of spirituality in Islam. True spirituality can moderate extremist tendencies;
it can correct politics. That is why SGI as engaged Buddhism is a model for the kind
of religious politics that is suitable for this world. This is neither passive asceticism
nor militant fundamentalism.
You started your formation as a political economist. What do you think about the
world economy and globalization? What do you think about the anti-globalization movement?
Majid Tehranian: That's a very difficult question. Let me tell you about
my own experiences. When I was young I was a socialist. I believed that in order
to have social justice you have to have a regulated economy so that national income
can be distributed more fairly. There shouldn't be such a big gap between the very
rich and very poor. Then I took my trip along the Silk Road through China, Central
Asia, and Iran. China in 1992 had already introduced the market forces into its national
economy. I saw dynamism. China was growing fast, something like 9% per annum. Then
I went to Central Asia. The Soviet Union had fallen in 1991. But the Central Asian
economy was still in its centralized government-controlled mold The economy was stagnant,
government stores were rather empty, but they included some low quality goods. A
sense of economic and social depression prevailed. But in Ashkabad, capital of Turkmenistan,
I visited what they called an open market. I saw thousands of people coming to this
market located in the city outskirts. This was a traditional bazaar that had survived
seventy years of soviet central planning. You had everything, including jewelry,
fruits, clothing, sheep, cattle, mechanical parts, carpets, everything.... It was
lively, active, and colorful. I realized that a free market is an absolute necessity
for an economy. You can stop the market and create economic ghost plans, big plans
to decide for people how to produce, what to produce, and for whom to produce. But
as the Soviet experience showed, the consequences will be disastrous. The only part
of the Central Asian economy that was working was this old bazaar.
I followed my journey to Iran. The market was again active. I could eat good food,
stay at a clean hotel, and visit shops that were full of fairly good quality goods.
I revised my youthful opinion. An ideal society is a society in which the market
works. But the market operates on the basis of self interest and sometimes greed.
That's why it is so dynamic. Left alone to its own devices, however, the market will
destroy itself. Without much regulation, world capitalism crashed in 1929. The market
needs government regulation. But governments also are organizations of interest groups.
left alone to their own devices, governments can be oppressive and self-serving.
Who can correct the corrupt? People like you and me, our voluntary associations such
as SGI, the churches, mosques, trade unions, and political parties. This ensemble
is known as Civil Society. Good governance is often the result of checks and balances
among four actors, including the State (Government), the Market, Civil Society, and
the communication networks (mediated and unmediated) that connect them.
Democracy has evolved from liberal democracy emphasizing individual freedom and enterprise,
to social democracy stressing social equality and justice, to communitarian democracy
calling for self-determination of cultural groups, and now something that we may
call direct democracy through the Internet. Democracy is thus not a destination but
a journey, a journey that is never finished. The moment we think we have achieved
perfect democracy, we have lost it. Nothing in this world is perfect. But as Churchill
said, democracy is a terrible way of government, except for all the others. Democracy
demands constant vigilance by engaged citizens. Look at the world. Wherever you have
a monopoly of power by government, the economy is stagnant. Wherever you have a monopoly
of power by the market forces, the rich become richer and the poor become poorer.
And wherever power is fragmented among competing ethnic and religious groups, you
have chaos. But wherever there is a balance between these forces, we have reasonable
economic growth and relative social justice. That's what we should be aiming at.
Which country has this kind of balance?
Majid Tehranian: I believe that Scandinavian countries come close to it.
The United States has moved towards market domination. It has less and less democracy
and more and more corporate domination. The United States is today the most unequal
country among the industrialized countries. The Economic Policy Institute's latest
statistics show that the top 1 percent of the population have amassed 38 percent
of the country's personal wealth. One fifth of the population accounts for 83 percent,
leaving four-fifth to share in only 17 percent. The American middle class in being
squeezed out by a growing lower class at the bottom and a small upper class at the
top. But we all know that the middle class is historically the backbone of any democratic
regime. The current trends in the United States do not augur well for the future
of democracy in that country. American society was more balanced during the immediate
postwar years, but the neo-liberal ideology under Reagan and after has tipped the
balance of power in favor of corporations. American elections are no longer an open
field. They are determined by who can spend more on political advertising. And the
politicians that benefit from this system refuse to reform it.
In Cuba and North Korea, the government is dominant with all of its disastrous consequences
for economic growth. Russia has tried to introduce the market forces in its economy.
Without the necessary legal institutions, however, it has reaped Mafia capitalism.
If you don't have rule of law and the social and cultural institutions that accompany
it, you will develop Mafia or Crony Capitalism.
We have had situations such as those in the Philippines under Marcos or Indonesia
under Suharto where they put their own family and friends in charge of business corporations.
In Iran there are the Mullha controlling about 40 percent of the country's assets.
It is not for the people, it is for a limited group controlling the government and
the market. The best system is one where civil society institutions are fully developed
to correct the market and the government while a free and pluralistic media strengthens
transparency and accountability. This will result in a dynamic equilibrium Democracy
is not like an airport at which you can arrive at any point in time. Democracy is
a process, a journey. You are constantly on the go, the moment you think you have
reached democracy, you have lost it. It is something that is dynamic, needing constant
vigilance, correction, and nurturing.
Where do you place the anti-global movement, within this equilibrium?
Majid Tehranian: You are asking a perplexing question. It is a question
I have been asking myself for some time. From 1980, Reagan and Thatcher introduced
new economic policies under the name of Neo-Liberal deregulation, privatization,
and decentralization. United States and Britain first, but the rest of the capitalist
world gradually have entered into a period of economic history during the last two
decades, in which government role has been reduced and corporate growth has been
augmented in the global economy. As a result, we have had a quickening pace of economic
growth leading to the globalization of the markets particularly in finance and high
technology sectors. This global economy could be called by various names. Some people
have called it Digital Capitalism because information technologies are playing a
critical role in this process. The new information technologies have connected world
markets instantaneously for the first time in human history. There was a period of
globalization at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century
in which vast numbers of people emigrated from Europe to South and North America.
Vast sums of capital also were invested in the colonies. World trade also rapidly
expanded, in some respects bigger than at the present time. The movement of population
was bigger than at the present time. But the current period of global economy is
characterized by a technological transformation that has made transfer of capital
so much easier. At the push of a button you can transfer trillions of dollars across
national borders. Global communication also has become facilitated by satellites,
computers, the Internet, and the World Wide Web.
This type of globalization is certainly unique in human history. There have been
serious consequences. One consequence is that the economic institutions of globalization
have moved faster than political and cultural institutions. You have roughly one
thousand global corporations that control the global economy. Nine big conglomerates,
for instance, control media industries, including publishing, radio, television,
cable, computers, satellites, the music and sports industries, etc. In every industry
you look, in pharmaceuticals, in steel, in shipbuilding, in telecommunications, in
automobiles, you have an oligopoly of companies, nine, ten, twelve, controlling the
industry as a whole. They have moved very fast, but the political institutions and
civil society institutions are lagging behind. And that has created a great imbalance
with undesirable consequences for income distribution. All indices indicate that
the rich are becoming richer and the poor poorer. Certain regions of the world such
as Africa south of the Sahara have in fact regressed. Life expectancy, infant mortality,
and levels of per capita income are less than it was ten years ago, twenty years
ago. The level of disease has gone up. AIDS, for instance, is killing thousands of
people in Africa.
September 11 may be considered as the beginning of a protracted World War III between
the rich and the poor. Basically, it was a kind of warning to the world that this
imbalance cannot go on. It was ringing the bells. "Wake up world! The world
is very unbalanced, do something about this!" Now if we listen to that warning
we will make progress. If we don't listen to that warning, I think it's going to
be a very dangerous world. To me 9/11 is the beginning of a new kind of warfare.
We haven't had this experience before. Wars in the past were between states. Germany,
Italy, and Japan against England and the United States. Wars of states. This time
it's not the states; it's not Afghanistan and the United States fighting. It is a
global civil war among and within states. Al- Qaeda is a global network, as they
tell us, in over a hundred countries. Al-Qaeda has come to the surface, but there
are other networks. There are drug networks, arms sales and distribution networks,
women and children trafficking networks. On the other hand, there is the SGI network,
the Bahai network, the Catholic network, and the Amnesty International global network.
Wherever I go I see wonderful people like you. The new global city has both positive
and negative aspects. We have created a global society for good world citizens like
you as well as criminals and terrorists. The United States is trying to fight global
terrorism through its own intelligence and military network. We are entering a new
stage of history that we have not known before. I call it a global civil war. This
civil war will intensify if we don't pay attention to its root causes. If we pay
attention to the root causes, namely the widening gaps between economic institutions,
political institutions and cultural institutions, violence can be contained. But
if we don't, I fear we face a very uncertain future. Weapons of mass destruction
have already proliferated into too many hands. We don't know who is going to use
what weapons when, where, and how.
Is the U. S. response an old logic?
Majid Tehranian: Yes. The logic of the United States is an old logic.
Instead of treating terrorism as a police action, President Brush has considered
it as a clarion call to a new war against selected states, which he calls an "Axis
of Evil." In my view, anyone who attacks civilians and innocent people is a
criminal. The criminal should be arrested and brought to trial. The trial should
be open so that the people of the world can see the face of the criminal, just like
the Nuremberg trials. The trial should aim at exposing the banality of evil. It should
be just, and the sentence should be appropriate to the crime. Because terrorism is
a crime against humanity, the judges should be respected jurists from all countries.
The International criminal Court that was recently established in Rome would be an
appropriate venue for such trials. I think Ben Ladin if he is taken should be brought
before that court because he committed a crime against humanity. He shouldn't be
taken to an American court.
But President Bush still lives in another era of history,
the era of national sovereignty and national solutions to global problems. He has
turned the struggle against global terrorism into a war against particular states,
in the old fashioned way. He has identified three countries as the Axis of Evil,
including Iran, Iraq and North Korea. But these three countries are demonstrably
not allies. Nor are they as evil as as some of the present or former U. S. allies.
But President Bush has said that we can add other countries, any country that doesn't
cooperate with us can go on that list, so cooperate with us or else. Now this is
a very old fashioned way of thinking. It is not appropriate to the new historic conditions.
Some Europeans, including Chris Pattern, have said this is too simplistic. Blair
wants to join Bush but the military in Britain say hey, we don't want to be part
of this. Even U. S. Pentagon has serious objections against President Bush's plans
to attack Iraq.
I have a hypothesis about this: countries that are heterogeneous in population like
the United States, Iraq, Iran, India, Israel, or Pakistan usually need external enemies
in order to unify their own population against some real or imagined cause. If they
don't have credible enemies they will invent them. President Bush also is doing this
partly out of domestic political considerations. A president at war with enemies
gains national popularity and is difficult to beat at elections. Consequently, his
Axis of Evil rhetoric has led to an Axis of Excess. Such policies have limited civil
liberties and home and expanded unilateralism abroad. The United States has abrogated
the ABM Treaty and refused to join the Kyoto Treaty to control environmental pollution,
and Rome treaty for the International Criminal Court.
The shock of 9/11 in the United States has been great. But the American people will
soon recover from that shock. There are already many voices of sanity among the Republicans,
Democrats, and Independents objecting to extremist policies.
What is the new logic, is there a way for political institutions to control globalization?
Majid Tehranian: Institutions take a lot of time, patience, and dedication
to develop. Look at the SGI. The SGI was not created just like that. It took a martyr
like Makiguchi, it took suffering by Josei Toda, it took hard work by Ikeda sensei
and his colleagues. Now it is a lively institution all over the world and it is doing
wonderful work. For lively institutions like the SGI to prosper, they need enormous
dedication, sense of purpose, and an active membership. Once they are created they
play a vital role in creating checks and balances in global society. That's on the
side of civil society. People have to unite. The Toda Institute is another example.
Founded by Ikeda sensei, the Toda Institute after six years has developed a global
network of some 400 peace scholars all over the world collaborating with each other,
publishing books, articles, and journals in the cause of world peace. Inter-governmental
organizations like the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World
Trade Organization, and the International Criminal Court took a lot of negotiation
Unfortunately, it takes a big tragedy to see the obvious need for global cooperation.
It took World War I to establish the League of Nations. It took World War II to establish
the United Nations. Politicians usually don't see beyond tomorrow, even today. Enlightened
politicians see tomorrow, not much further. Le me give you an example. In collaboration
with other peace institutes, the Toda Institute initiated a project in 1998 to bring
the governments of the Persian Gulf to round table discussions about their future
cooperation. These 8 states have experienced two bloody wars during the past two
decades. They are also currently facing the possibility of a third war. We hoped
that these governments have come to realize that wars don't pay. We wanted to encourage
them to come together and establish a regional security regime. The first difficulty
we faced was a curious one. What are we going to call it? The Persian Gulf? The Arab
Gulf? Or just the Gulf? If we called it the Persian Gulf, the Arabs wouldn't come.
If we called it the Arab Gulf or simply the Gulf, the Persians wouldn't come. So
we decided to call it West Asia. We established an International Commission for Security
and Cooperation in West Asia, including senior diplomats and scholars from the eight
Gulf states as well as the five permanent member-states of the UN Security Council.
They all came. The Commission has now met four times in four years-- Istanbul in
1999, Cyprus in 2000 and 2002, and Doha in 2001. Some measure of confidence and camaraderie
was built among the Commission members. We had frank discussions both about common
problems and different perceptions. But we could not make an impact on the need for
tangible regional cooperation.
We have now turned to civil societies. At our last meeting in March 2002, we launched
a research project on democratization. This is perhaps a more realistic approach.
We're not a government organization, we're non-governmental. We are a research institute,
so our best contribution can be in the area of research and publication. That is
the approach civil society institutions can take, obviously each in its own domain
Until now civil society organizations have been a minority. Can their slow development
make any impact?
Majid Tehranian: The growth of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has
been phenomenal. According to the Commission on Global Governance, we have over 37,000
NGOs. This was in 1995. By now, the numbers have significantly increased, particularly
in the less developed countries where civil societies are the weakest.
In the more developed countries, we have witnessed the rise of an anti-globalization
movement which started in 1989 in Seattle. For the first time trade unions, women's
and human rights organizations grouped together and started to take up issues that
seemed at first abstract and global, but which are very important to local and national
policies. Such issues as pollution, human rights, economic constitution of the world,
are extremely important issues to all of us. The anti-globalization movement from
Seattle onwards has had an impact on governments. How deep an impact it is too soon
to tell. But certainly some officials at the World Bank, International Monetary Fund,
the World Trade Organization now say: Ah, there's another point of view. But before
Seattle, they were rather smug, believing to be promoting a kind of economic growth
that in due course would trickle down to the poor. Economic life is not that simple.
Civil society organizations can play a critical role because governments and corporations
are organizations of special interests. In democracies, a vigorous civil society
can correct their excessive tendencies. How deeply, how profoundly, we shall see.
It depends. Usually governments and corporations are slow in their responses. They
are conventional institutions. They often think in terms of the past. You have heard
the expression: generals fight the old wars, not the new ones. Politicians also often
operate in old paradigms. Governments and corporations are reactive. That's their
nature. But civil society institutions that suffer the consequences of economic and
political domination and exploitation can protest. They can look to the future and
provide alternatives. When the time comes that alternative can be translated into
History books only mention wars and so children learn that conflict is resolved
only by violence. There is no sign of a nonviolent culture. Nowadays we are renewing
the culture of war, but at the same time there is growth of a culture of nonviolence.
What can we do to transmit this nonviolent culture to the new generation?
Majid Tehranian: There was a time in history that we were cannibals, we
devoured each other in the belief that the only way to get the manna (power) of the
enemies was through eating their flesh. That was the moral justification for cannibalism.
There are people today who say that the only way to make progress is through force.
I have already observed that without the First World War we wouldn't have had the
League of Nations and without the Second World War, we wouldn't have had the United
But we must realize that cultural, moral, and spiritual forces also have significantly
contributed to human progress. Cultural forces work in tandem with material forces.
We have moved a long way materially from nomadic to agrarian, commercial, industrial,
and informatics civilizations. In this process, we have culturally moved away from
cannibalism, slavery, serfdom, absolutism, and patriarchy to universal human rights
and democratic norms and values. However, human rights and democratic norms are not
universally observed. We have a very uneven world both materially and culturally.
But it is clear that as people turned to agriculture and industry, world trade and
exchange became increasingly important. As a result, we have developed growing international
dependency. The United States and China, for instance, need each other today for
their economic well-being. Consequently, both governments are more careful about
resorting to war for the resolution of their disputes.
Cannibalism went out of fashion when it was no longer necessary. Before economic
and cultural exchange, violence among warring tribes often led to the annihilation
of the enemy. Exchange somewhat softened these enmities Moreover, as humankind increased
its control of nature through technology, old fears gave way to new hopes. A lot
of cannibalism may have had something to do with the fear of nature. We were afraid
of darkness, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis, etc. Nature was visibly dominant
in most of history. It is still dominant. But the new technologies have deluded us
to believe otherwise. The invention of electricity, automobile, satellites, computers,
and all the other marvelous gadgets have extended our human powers. When nature used
to devastate our normal life, we hyphothezied that it was the angry gods that were
punishing us. To pacify the gods in the Aztec and Inca cultures, young maidens were
sacrificed to the gods. Now we know what is the cause of floods, it is not the gods
that are unhappy, it is due to natural causes that can be somewhat tamed. The gods
have not polluted our cities and oceans. We have.
Let's now turn to the question of violence. Centuries ago, great spiritual leaders
such as Moses, Buddha, and Jesus taught us not to kill. In 1945, the United Nations
Charter outlawed the use of violence in the settlement of international disputes.
However, violence continues to be a method of conflict resolution in personal, national,
and international life.
There are many other methods besides violence, including negotiation, bargaining,
mediation, adjudication,, arbitration, dialogue, and love. When we establish a constitutional
government, namely a government of laws, we decide to go to court instead of fighting.
Similarly at the international level, when and if we decide to have a global constitutional
regime instead of the rule of the jungle, we will be resolving our international
conflicts primarily through adjudication. This is already happening to some degree
through the International Court of Justice and the World Trade Organization. Not
fast enough, however.
In human conflicts, love is the most effective and lasting method of conflict resolution.
If in a conflict, I show affection, I show consideration, if I bring you a gift,
if I ask you about your family, you are probably going to respond in kind, you're
not going to beat me up. That is the method that Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, King, and
Ikeda advocate. I think we can move gradually in that direction. There is no fixed
human nature. We humans are cultural animals. Our behavior is largely determined
by our cultural values, norms, and institutions. We are taught to be violent or we
are taught to resort of any of the other methods of conflict resolution. If we live
under the conditions of a jungle, a slum, a refugee camp, or political chaos, we
learn that we can best defend ourselves by being fast at the gun. But if we live
under a constitutional government, nationally and internationally, and we are taught
in our families, schools, religious institutions, and work places that we should
use nonviolent methods of conflict resolution, we will behave that way.
Humankind has come a long way both technologically and morally. The United Nations
Charter and the Universal Declarations of Human Rights are the moral equivalents
of great technological breakthroughs in history. However, we still have a long way
to go. Remember, peace and democracy are journeys not destinations. We must constantly
strive to achieve them. We cannot rest on our laurels.
Majid Tehranian is professor of international communication at the University
of Hawaii and director of the Toda Institute
for Global Peace and Policy Research.