Saturday, December 17, 2005

Peace at any price?

Isn’t the recently concluded Perdana Peace Forum something? Brainchild of former Malaysian PM Dr M, it is probably the largest gathering of likeminded peaceniks in the country, if not the region. The participants gathered are well-known in their own right, and as Dr M has said, because they are not “yes, men” and hence are no strangers to controversy. I have to admit, though I try very hard to stay objective and keep irony firmly in cheek (I mean, in check) I am finding it hard going.

As noble as its intentions may be, I am embarrassed by the goings-on as reported in the media and by accredited bloggers, and am somewhat pained by the churlish broadsides hurled at certain governments and individuals. I have yet to read any analyses by the lucky bloggers and I hope their good fortune did not come with provisos that restrict discourse. But I won’t go into that.

Dr M says, "Peace means No War." Yet peace, to my mind, is not merely the absence of war or avoidance of war. Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence notwithstanding, that would be a clumsy definition and naïve to boot. The late dictator Ceauscecu of Romania, Hitler, Stalin, Osama and the Talibans, and even Saddam, among others, exercised such totalitarian control their iron grip kept the peace while suppressing their people. So while war is reprehensible, it would be tragic to dismiss it completely as a bad thing. In an imperfect world, the causes of war are admittedly complex. The grounds for going to war or not are just as fraught with complexity, and good people are found on both sides of the fence. I also think the standards by which an individual makes peace are quite different when applied to the state - which complicate matters a fair bit.

Having said that ,the concept of peace that makes sense to me is ‘shalom.’ It is a Hebrew word that has shades of meanings including, ”wholeness, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.” It is relational in its core (vertical and horizontal) and is as much a process as it is an end. Perry Yoder says peace finds its expression materially, relationally, and morally (Shalom:The Biblical Word for Salvation, Justice and Peace) and who can disagree with that?

Such a concept carries spiritual connotation as much as political implications. While social realities may make this a utopian dream, it nevertheless provides a framework for the pursuit of peace. Also the framework presupposes a moral basis for peace, of which justice and truth are important components (Something even the most left-leaning participants subscribe to, I hope, or everything else is simply so much hot air).

Again, definitions are famously contentious. Yet I find it amusing that while Dr M was happy to have his Zimbabwe President and pal Mugabe share the rostrum, others were disturbed if not offended by his presence. Hmm. Not extending an invitation to Mugabe because of his politics of violent social restructuring is perhaps more desirable than a military intervention. Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon who was recently feted in Malaysia under the banner of his Universal Peace Federation (!) was named by a participant as a good example of a bad example whose religious views are incongruous with tolerance and peace. Weird, huh?

So it appears, in the main, many of the participants are operating from some moral highground, but whose unspoken agenda have been betrayed by their selective rhetoric. It also begs the question if making peace is the same as keeping the peace.

There are different positions on the issue of war and John Stott lists three: total pacifism, just war, and relative or nuclear pacifism, all of which are cogently explored in his book New Issues Facing Christians Today. The idea of a just war is appealing but here too is a double-edged sword. The Christian Reformed Church Committee to Study War and Peace has a paper out which reads in part:
Just governing for the common public good is essential to peace. Peace is not simply an absence of war; it is the condition of a justly governed society in which people can fulfill their many callings before God free of the daily or hourly fear of violence and chaos.

A just government may consider going to war only as a last resort to restrain aggression and restore peaceful order. Such warfare can be justified only in limited circumstances and may be pursued only in carefully restrained ways that will, among other things, aim to protect non-combatants. These and many other criteria are part of the moral reasoning of just war. Just-war criteria hold governments accountable. This kind of reasoning has also led to cooperative efforts among states to develop international organizations and international laws to prevent and resolve conflicts, to restrain violence, and to maintain peace.

That would score with Dr Martin Luther King’s own view that "True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” That's a costly pursuit and Dr King would know. How about Bonhoeffer whose anti-Hitler stance cost his own life? I understand the chasm between theory and practice, and I know I’m not clarifying issues with my rant. But until I revisit the topic (hopefully soon), shalom.

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