How One Culture of War Begets Another

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In this month’s CPNN bulletin, we read how the “unjustifiable” war in Iraq has been a major cause of the rise of the barbaric ‘Islamic State’ in the region.  This observation comes from two important figures in our time, Ismail Serageldin, head of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and Mary Robinson, formerly President of Ireland, then High Commissioner for Human Rights, and now one of the “Elders.”

Let us expand on their analysis.  The forces that now lead the Islamic State received their arms from the American Empire (i.e. the United States, NATO, and their allies) in order to take part in the overthrow of President Assad in Syria, and then they captured arms that had been sent by the US to Iraq in order to overthrow President Sadam Hussein.  And then there is Boko Haram and Al-Shabab in Africa who are inspired by the Islamic State even through they lack the heavy weapons.  But let us expand in time as well as in space.  The Islamic State is a successor to Al Quaeda and Osama Bin Laden who got their arms and training in the beginning as part of the war of the American Empire against the Russians in Afghanistan.  And Sadam Hussein was armed by the American Empire as part of their war against the Iran that came after they had overthrown the legitimate democracy of Mossadegh.

And so, over time, the West’s culture of war has reproduced its mirror image in the Middle East – another military empire.  One culture of war has armed, trained and justified another.  One must say “justified” because the Islamic State, like its predecessor Al Quaeda, attracts its recruits by promising to rid the region of the American Empire!

Perhaps, some readers will be shocked to consider the Islamic State as the mirror image of the American Empire.  But think carefully.  Which one has killed the most people?  Which one has produced the most inter-tribal, inter-religious, inter-ethnic conflicts?  And is it better to kill with drones than by beheading?

And now, as the Western Empire prepares its military options in an attempt to destroy the Islamic State, what new monsters will it create?  And are there not already new monsters arising from the ashes of their military intervention to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in Libya?  Not to mention the military aid and advice provided to fascists in the Ukraine. . .

Where will it end?  Perhaps very simply by the bankruptcy of the West.  These wars are very expensive, and they continue to add to unsustainable national debts.   While it may seem that the production of arms provides jobs to sustain their economies, the people of the American Empire cannot eat or find shelter from the weapons they produce.  As Marx once said, the production of arms is like throwing money into the sea.  Or to quote a more contemporary specialist, the economist Lloyd Dumas, in his book The Overburdened Economy, shows how military production has a general negative effect on the economy.

And as for the Islamic State, perhaps it does not need to worry about bankruptcy, but once it loses its enemy, the American Empire, it will lose its claim to legitimacy, and will not be able to sustain itself.  For, as Hina Jilani reminds us, they are not about religion, but only control.  “It’s not about religion or any attempt to impose any kind of religious values, because those values are obviously values of peace, of tolerance, of humanity. ”

So, what should we be doing?

Planting Seeds for a Culture of Peace

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As stated above, the American Empire and its mirror image in the Middle East, are destined to collapse.  The most important question is what will come next.  Will new empires arise quickly to take their place?  Will they be fascist regimes (extreme cultures of war), which is what happened after the economic collapse that began in 1929?  Or will we have a window of opportunity to make a culture of peace instead of a new culture of war?

The answer depends upon what we do now.  Have we prepared the ground and sowed enough seeds for a for a culture of peace?

In Ismail Serageldin’s “Cultural Program to Reject Extremism and Violence” he refers to the arts as “seeds of hope.”   This is what we should be planting.

A culture of peace is just that:  a culture.  Cultures are not constructed.  They are cultivated, and the first steps of cultivation are preparing the ground and planting the seeds.  In my latest book, Embrace the Fire: Plant the seeds for a Culture of Peace, I consider the myriad initiatives that we have read about in CPNN over the years to be like seeds for a new culture.  Of course, like the planting of seeds in general, not every seed will survive and grow.  But if we continue planting them, eventually enough of them will survive to produce a new culture.   It is not only the culture of war that reproduces itself, but the culture of peace can do so as well – but by a very different method.

I was very impressed by a visit last year to see the giant sequoias in California and to learn that their seeds can only be productive after they have passed through a fire.  And so we may look at the culture of peace like the sequoias.  The seeds we plant will have to pass through the fiery death of the culture of war and survive to start a new culture that will replace it afterwards.

This approach requires patience and a long-range vision of history.  The results do not arrive quickly.  It requires the attitude of the farmer who assumes the cycle of seasons.  It assumes the old prophetic wisdom: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. . . ”

As usual, CPNN this month describes seeds of hope.  If we go to the original essay of Serageldin we find many seeds of hope, some of which have been planted already, and some that need resources in order to be planted.  Then look at the work being done by Syrian women: stopping child marriage, uniting refugees and host communities, policing the streets, listening to marginalized groups, reopening schools, helping families survive, reforming corrupt courts, vaccinating children, disarming youth and mobilizing a movement for peace.  If we go to the International Symposium of the Pan-African Centre for Social Prospects for Peace and Development through Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue, we find the planting of a culture of peace in Africa.   Also in Africa we find graffiti art employed as a tool for social change to promote women’s rights, including equal pay and educational access.

Also, as usual, there are many good examples from Latin America.   Several come from Colombia, where the people have suffered from war for many decades and now there are seeds of peace coming to fruition.  The negotiations between the FARC revolutionary movement and the government are moving forward with the decision to establish a Commission for Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition.  The national law for teaching peace is in the course of implementation.  And in the Caribbean region of Colombia a regional peace assembly is being developed.

Are we doing enough?  Probably not.  And do we have a lot of time?  Probably not.  I fear that the American Empire cannot last much longer, and when it crashes, its allies and its mirror images will probably crash as well, just as the crash of the Soviet Empire led to the collapse of most of its allies.

Let us redouble our efforts.  We are racing against time.