By Michael Jessen
Last week it was Christians versus Muslims in Nigeria. Protestants versus Catholics in Belfast. Israelis versus Palestinians in the Middle East. Even the United Nations conference on racism in South Africa. Sadly, these conflicts occurred on the eve of Culture of Peace Week being celebrated worldwide from September 11 to 18.
Then this week, the horrific, premeditated terrorist attacks on the United States, which seemed as unreal as a Hollywood movie. They happened on the International Day of Peace. The symbolic nature of these despicable acts surely was not lost on the perpetrators.
Terrifying international images of intolerance plague our global village. Some of the disputes go back hundreds of years, with no signs of leaving the airwaves and pages of our media anytime soon. Others are new to the 21st century and likely only the tip of a titanic iceberg.
The concepts of "neighbourliness" and "community" implied by the word "village" remain elusive in far too much of the world.
According to Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, "in each region, and within all countries, there are problems stemming from either a lack of respect for, or lack of acceptance of, the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings." Robinson made the comment in 1999. The events of the past two weeks show how little has changed.
When will humanity tire of the fighting and the killing? When will the peoples of the Earth commit to living in peace and harmony with one another? Culture of Peace Week (www.worldpeace.org/culture.html) is a good time to ponder these fundamental questions and the Declaration For All Life on Earth (www.worldpeace.org/declaration.html) provides the principles on which to base our commitment.
"The earth is an evolving living entity," says the declaration's preamble. "Every form of life on earth is an important part of this living entity. Accordingly, we, as individual human beings, must cultivate the awareness that we are all members of a global community of life and that we share a common mission and responsibility for the future of our planet.
"Today, it is imperative that every human being bear the responsibility of building peace and harmony in his or her heart," the preamble continues. "We all have this common mission that we must fulfill. World peace will be achieved when every member of humanity becomes aware of this common mission -- when we all join together for our common purpose."
The declaration then outlines four principles that it asks everyone to put into practice: reverence for life; respect for all differences; gratitude for and coexistence with all of nature; and harmony between the spiritual and material.
Culture of Peace Week has coincided with the opening of each new session of the United Nations General Assembly since 1981. The Tuesday following the second Monday of September has been designated International Day of Peace and a minute of silence for peace is traditionally observed to give positive evidence of a "commitment to peace in all its viable ways."
Tuesday, September 18th is designated as Hear the Children Day of Peace this year. The day was first proposed by children from all over the world in 1995 in response to the call for youth participation voiced by delegates to the United Nations 1990 World Summit for Children. It's a day when children envision their voices are heard at all levels of government, when violence is eliminated from all media, and when a 24-hour wave of silence for peace circles the globe as people stop at noon in every time zone to think about and/or pray for peace. May Peace Prevail on Earth is the prayer that will begin and end the Culture of Peace Week.
But will one day or one week bring about the peace, dignity, and equality so much of humanity desperately seeks? Forty years ago the richest fifth of the world's population possessed about 30 times more wealth than the poorest 20 percent. Today, that factor has tripled -- to 90 times more wealth.
Still we must begin somewhere. If each of us can become the spirit of peace for one day or one week, it is a starting point. If each of us can visualize peace, perhaps we can make it a reality. If there was ever a time when each of us must ground ourselves in peace, it is now. The alternative could dwarf Tuesday's violence and it must not be allowed to happen.
ONE SMALL STEP - Organize events celebrating peace in your community, schools, or places of worship. Participating schools are encouraged to visit the United Nations Cyber School Bus website at http://www.un.org/Pubs/CyberSchoolBus to check for special projects. Light a candle, ring bells, and contact your local media to ask them to suspend coverage of worldwide violence for one day. Begin and end the Culture of Peace Week with a moment of silence for peace and the words May Peace Prevail on Earth.
RESOURCES - Hatred begets hatred; revenge begets revenge; violence begets violence. The people of the world need to step forward and say enough is enough. We can never stop terrorism. At best we might be able to manage it with a police state mentality. We must ask our leaders to use this opportunity to broker real peace in the world. We do not need retaliation or retribution. We need healing and forgiveness.
I found some of the most cogent commentary on Tuesday's events in a column by Thomas Boswell, a sports writer for the Washington Post, reprinted in the September 13th Vancouver Sun. Boswell first quoted Gerry Hunsicker (General Manager of the Houston Astros baseball team) who said: "When you live in the United States and you think it's the greatest country in the world, you feel somewhat protected and immune. You read about terrorism happening in other parts of the world. A day like this makes you rethink. A lot of us really have a false sense of what the world is really like."
Boswell then writes: "For many Americans, including me, our lives have been conducted in a society where nearly all forces are benign. Our tragedies, of health or accident, are the inescapable sort that no society can prevent. The rest of the world looks at our wealth, our distance from their problems, even our self-absorption, with a wide range of responses. One of those responses is hatred."
Boswell concludes: "Terrorism drives out all normal human activity before it, defining life in its own sick terms, if it can." I would add: so does counter-terrorism.
I recommend the following web sites http://www.alternet.com, http://www.michaelmoore.com, and http://www.workingforchange.com as excellent sources of alternative commentary that will help thinking beyond retribution.
Novelist and short story writer Andre Dubus III wrote a fine piece in the September 15th Toronto Globe and Mail. After quoting Ernest Hemingway's advice to writers: "The job of the writer is not to judge but to seek to understand," Dubus admits that his shocked and grief-stricken self wants to kill the perpetrators of Tuesday's events. Dubus then writes: "But I wish I were stronger and larger than this, for I believe Hemingway's line is not only sound writing advice, but sound living advice too. After writing stories for 20 years, if I've learned anything at all, it is that everyone has his or her side to tell. The rage and hatred these men must have felt towards the United States and its symbols of capitalist might had to be considerable, and it does not come from nowhere. Even a cursory examination of American actions abroad in the last century is nothing short of a list of atrocities carried out in the name of freedom when the true winners tend to be a handful of American executives and stockholders. This is an old story, and yet most Americans -- whom I consider to be decent, hard-working, and compassionate people -- know nothing about it, or we have become so complacent we pretend we don't."
On the day of the attacks on New York and Washington, Noam Chomsky wrote: "As to how to react, we have a choice. We can express justified horror; we can seek to understand what may have led to the crimes, which means making an effort to enter the minds of the likely perpetrators. . . . Again, we have a choice: we may try to understand, or refuse to do so, contributing to the likelihood that much worse lies ahead."
Michael Jessen is the owner of toenail environmental services, a consulting company that helps businesses and communities profit from environmental leadership. He can be reached by telephone at 250/229-5632 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His firm's award-winning web site is at www.toenail.org/
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