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 collaboration.
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 of politics.
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 and compassion.
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 to establish.
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 of activity.
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 reality.
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 Nations.
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