The UN was created several months after the end of World War II – the greatest human catastrophe in the history of mankind – and, without a doubt, its greatest achievement over its 75 years of existence has been its successful prevention of another global conflagration.
The current Pandemic has brutally returned the intrinsic value of life to the attention of our globalized society, and serves as a reminder to us that this lengthy and laudable World Peace has not, however, prevented unnecessary bloodshed and loss of life through regional, local or civil wars, or due to repressive tactics employed by dictatorial regimes which, over a much longer period, came to surpass the death toll of the Second World War altogether.
It is no less true that the spread of democracy worldwide, a cause championed by the UN itself, has served to diminish the occurrence of the aforementioned types of repression, which have since been legally ratified as “crimes against humanity”, just as the International Criminal Court has become a useful instrument in sanctioning such transgressions.
Eradicating warfare altogether requires that it be defined through international legislation as, in essence, a crime “en masse”; and only afterwards can discussions be opened on the mitigating or aggravating circumstances of those who wield it. To clarify the criminal nature of war is a way to pre-empt it in its many modern guises: regional, local, “hybrid” wars, or the globalization of terrorism which flourished by using the advancements of information technology and social networking.
Eliminating warfare as an acceptable means of conflict resolution necessitates a profound transmutation of human consciousness that the current political, military and financial establishment cannot adequately address – and here, I believe, is where international organizations such as the United Nations and its affiliates can play an active and essential role.
Contemporary society is beset by active and frozen conflicts whose underlying causes stem from residual differences in the mentalities and collective psychologies of historically-opposed nations, ethnic or religious groups, made manifest in the expressing of historical frustrations.
Classical diplomacy focusing on nation-states, based on external political, military and economic pressure, might be capable of containing these frustrations for a time, but cannot ultimately prevent their conflagration in various moments of crisis when such differences are weaponized by political actors to provoke emotional shocks meant to deviate civil discontent aimed at economic and social issues towards ethnic or religious groupings identified as “hostile”.
Cultural diplomacy can act as a preventative mechanism against the bellicose internal and external policies of the “serially guilty”. It begins with a dialogue based on “accepting the Other”, but can only be truly fulfilled through thoroughly “understanding the Other”, in the admission that there is much to be learned from a culture alien to one’s own.
Such dialogue serves as a potent tool indeed; yet a lasting peace cannot be edified without the parallel creation of a true Culture of Peace. In order to impart this concept its appropriate weight, peace must not be viewed merely as an alternative to war. It must not be considered a value unto itself, but an instrument in defence of humanity’s greatest treasure of all: life. A culture of peace is only achieved through an extensive educational process that rejects violence not only in the resolution of military, political and economic differences, but also as an avenue for the attainment of universally desirable values such as freedom, truth and justice. Human society has, at present, reached an evolutionary threshold where the space for democratic dialogue has substantially increased to the detriment of authoritarian regimes, to the extent that the institution of fundamental moral values at a global level might well be achieved peacefully. Unfortunately, children and the youth are continuously assaulted by the large-scale propagation of violence through cinematography, television, the media and social networks, which have proven to be fecund environments for the orchestration of hate. We should consider why it is that the history of mankind has, for millennia, been a history of wars instead of a history of civilizations, and why the heroes of society are the “lords of war”, and not the “lords of peace”.
For some time now, international organizations such as the United Nations, UNESCO and civil society at large have been attempting to create a political culture of security through negotiation and cooperation. In order to promote peace and understanding in the world, we seek the lowest common denominator on which we might all agree. This is a fair and welcome initiative, and especially effective in counteracting immediate threats.
Yet I believe that we must aim higher. If we truly wish to achieve a lasting peace and understanding between people, we must shift our focus from the lowest common denominator to the highest – faith.
My friend Mladen Ivanic experienced the horrors of war first-hand in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country wherein three religions coexist. The time has come that religious establishments themselves seek to return to the fundamental purpose of faith: Peace. This step is highly necessary, as all religions condemn war and the define the slaughter of our fellows as a cardinal sin.
As part of the Levant Initiative for Global Peace project, launched by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization several years ago, we have succeeded in bringing together spiritual leaders of all faiths and creeds. Such a joint message can be a powerful and decisive factor in preventing the stoking of religious ire in order to fan the flames of conflict.
The culture of peace is not a short-term remedy, but rather “a long road through darkness unto light”, which can only be navigated by way of a lengthy and complex educational programme from childhood until old age, which must be fully and concurrently implemented not just in schools but in society at large, and which must ultimately be internalised by each of us in turn.