ISSUE 34
SUMMER 2001
Peace Matters index
 

 

 

   

the vision thing

 
 


ONLINE contents

- a blighted land
- the vision thing
- full spectrum dominance
- obstacles to communication
- child soldiers

 



1 ‘People can’t work for what they can’t imagine’
The indomitable Norwegian/American Elise Boulding, Quaker peace activist and sociologist and 81 this year, is also a futurist. Here’s her view looking back from 2101:
By 2050, she says, the population had, through both disaster and design, fallen below 5 billion: human life on earth became viable again. School-based peace education joined with health and social education, leading to mutual solving of problems in and across communities and faiths. Industrialisation slowed down, older technologies and skills were revitalised, steady-state economies were achieved. Dismantling the military and its institutions began. People’s organisations (NGOs) now provided vital communication networks round the world, linking the growing thousands of locally-run communities, sharing information, skills, problems, solutions.

‘By 2100, the biosphere was beginning to recover from the destruction of the twentieth century, though used-up resources were gone for ever. National boundaries still existed for administrative convenience, but regional intergovernmental bodies skilled in conflict management handled disputes peacefully.... Humans had learned to listen to one another and the planet.’

Elise Boulding was deeply influenced by ‘The Image of the Future’ (1951), a study of 1,500 years of European history by Dutch historian and sociologist Fred Polak. Out of post-war gloom he developed the idea of imaging a better future as a way of empowering people to bring it about.

From 1980, Elise Boulding organised a series of ‘Imaging a World Without Weapons’ workshops. Western-oriented at first, in the 1990s the workshops were rethought, recognising the need to acknowledge and learn traditions, perceptions and values from elsewhere in the world. Elise Boulding’s own perception is that people from all times and cultures have a similar vision: ‘a clean, green world of abundance, joyfully shared’. The World Futures Studies Federation welcomed her in.
One of WFSF’s founders is Italian academic and feminist Eleonora Masini. Her starting point: ‘The future is the only temporal area over which people have power’. Many people can see that things are changing; plenty can see the need for change; fewer have the vision to see that things can be changed. The futurist’s aim is to make all three insights work together. Just as experts in conflict-solving spot embryo disputes and take preventive action, futurists learn to recognise seeds of change and apply their particular science of thought to envision – and encourage – benign flowering.

Elise Boulding’s latest book, ‘Cultures of Peace: the Hidden Side of History’, identifies some of those seeds. It’s a useful and readable account of peace movements working within a culture of war; a remarkable amount of peace building is already going on, most of it unpublicised. She also aims to show how cultures of peace can be achieved; ‘the range of human activity that can be re-tuned to contribute to peace building is vast’.


 
   


A VISIONARY LIFE: ELISE BJORN-HANSEN BOULDING
Born: Oslo, Norway, 1920
Married: Kenneth Boulding (d. 1993), 1941. Five children: Russell, Mark, Christie, Philip and William
Education: BA (Douglass College) 1940; MA in Sociology (Iowa 1949); Ph D (Michigan 1969)
Career: Professor of Sociology and Peace Studies (University of Colorado 1967-78); Professor of Sociology (Dartmouth College, 1978-85); member of UN University governing board; on UNESCO International Jury, 1981-87
Peace work: anti-nuclear activist, volunteer at the Center for Conflict Resolution, and co-founder of the International Peace Research Association (1960s); stood as political Peace candidate in 1966 elections; participant in Women Strike For Peace; leading member of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; initiated foundation of US Institute of Peace; President, Chair and other posts for a number of major peace organisations; nomination for Nobel Peace Prize (1990)
Publications include: Building a Global Civic Culture’ (1988); ‘One Small Plot of Heaven – reflections of a Quaker Sociologist on Family Life’ (1989); ‘The Underside of History: A View of Women Through Time’ (1992); (editor) ‘Building Peace in the Middle East’ (1994); (with Kenneth Boulding) ‘Images and Processes’ (1995); ‘Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History’ (2000)

 
     


2 Living with difference
One could say that at present the world’s prevailing wish is to avoid war, while sustaining a military culture in which war is always an option, always a threat, and always a threat that can be carried out. The ‘One Third World’ of the North and East talks of peace, may try sanctions before shooting, but remains committed to armed force as an available resort. In the ‘Two Thirds World’ of the South and East governments and oppressed peoples still turn most readily and immediately to armed violence.

But it’s minorities (albeit of very powerful people) who maintain military infrastructures. Are they the rulers people really want? The shadow of militarism reinforces the pathological short-termism of governments, keeping life at continual crisis-management level. This is what reaches the headlines, eats up national budgets, and makes sure that intractable social and political problems are expressed in violence.

‘Full many a flower is born to blush unseen’. The idea that people, rather than governments, can empower themselves to make changes may spring up locally, but too few people are confident that it can spread. Yet it can. There are already signs of social and cultural change.

Look round the ‘One Third World’. In education, for example, there’s a growing use of anti-war resources (including the PPU’s); history studies are no longer pinned to rulers and wars, and interpreting the past is open to question and counter-question. Most work in the creative arts taking war as a subject is critical of it. Glorification of war has faded. People have lost the taste for public ‘proud display of armed might’. There’s a strong focus on mediation and negotiation as preferred routes to conflict-solving. (Not all of of this is strictly pacifist, but don’t knock it: it’s a welcome trend.)

More: there are many people, often inspired by visionary individuals, who are working to replace mere damage-limitation by peace-oriented forward thinking. They are co-ordinating themselves into those remarkable bodies the NGOs (which ‘have a viability and resilience that nation-states no longer have’, says Elise Boulding). NGO activities and experiences indicate – demonstrate – that a culture of peace is possible and within vision’s range. Developing such skills, such vision, is, unsurprisingly, a learning process. That is to say, it takes time.

As well as time, what’s also needed, as any futurist will tell you, is a vigorous and efficient network of communications. It already has a nucleus among the NGOs (and on the internet), but it needs proper organisation. Communication spreads information. Information leads to better understanding. Understanding can lead to sympathy and empathy, and on to united management of conflict in a creative, progressive way. People in the peace arena have no doubt that this vision is realistic and realisable, not naive or hopelessly utopian.

In his book ‘Ethics, Killing & War’, philosopher Richard Norman (who cogently reasons that the Just War theory is morally unsound) offers a perspective on what to do when moral positions clash. Such conflicts are moral dilemmas in themselves. Morality, however, derives from common human experience, and in that sense is bigger than the problems it creates. ‘The apparent impossibility of resolving the conflict at one level can be the occasion for shifting the argument to a new level, at which we can try to find ways of living with our differences.’ People working for peace can look for strategies ‘aimed at creating the kind of world in which it is less and less in anyone’s interest to go to war’. (What if even half the military budgets went on training and education in nonviolent skills...)

Richard Norman is not a pacifist, though he counts himself as a member of the movement towards peace. He’s prepared to consider ’defensive deterrence’; but he is very strict about it. Forms of defence must be ‘non-provocative’, with ‘a military capacity which is not only defensive in intent but also cannot be interpreted by other states as potentially aggressive’. If this were possible (discuss) and coupled with moves towards greater economic interdependence, it could lead to wars withering away: yet another road towards a culture of peace, which pragmatic pacifist futurists shouldn’t rule out of their vision.


 
   


A VISIONARY LIFE: SEBASTIAO RIBEIRO SALGADO
Born: Aimorés, Brazil, 1944
Married: Lélia Wanick, 1967. Two sons, Juliano and Rodrigo
Education: Studied economics at São Paulo University, Brazil, and Ecole Nationale de Statistique et de l’Administration Economique in Paris
Career: economist, Ministry of Finance, São Paulo (1968-69); economist, International Coffee Organisation, London (1971-73); photographer, Gamma Agency (1975-79); photographer, Magnum Agency (1979-94); photographer, Amazonas Images from 1994
Books/Exhibitions: ‘Sahel: Man in Distress’ (1986); ‘Other Americas’ (1986); ‘An Uncertain Grace’ (1990); ‘Workers’ (1993); ‘Terra’ (1997); ‘Children: Refugees and Migrants’; ‘Migrations: Humanity in Transition’ (2000)
Sebastião Salgado discovered in the 1970s that photography was a better way than economics to ‘get inside reality’, and from then on he has used his individual skill in the service of humanitarian and environmental issues. A colleague at Magnum said that he was driven by his ‘strong sense of and direct involvement in issues of social justice’. He has travelled round the unhappiest areas of human suffering to make his pictures – including Ethiopia during famine; Rwanda and Congo; Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador; Kosovo. He, like many workers for peace, sees the danger of globalisation, in which 4 out of 5 people suffer from the effects, often violent, of poverty. ‘My photographs are not neutral. Photography is not objective. You photograph with your mind and the way you think.’
Sebastião Salgado’s intention is to show the human dignity that is the right of every individual even in extremis. His photographs of, for example, Mozambican children do more: they acknowledge the children’s individuality too, as each young sitter gazes not only at the camera, not only at the photographer, but also at us.
‘If the person looking at my pictures feels only compassion, I have failed. I want people to understand that we can have a solution. Very few of the people I photographed are responsible for the situation they are in. They are not responsible for being there; other things are. And about those other things we have to choose. I believe we have a responsibility in the time in which we live to provoke a discussion, a debate, ask questions. If we want to survive as a species we must choose another direction. What you see in my pictures is what we have chosen, and it is not the proper way. Our work is so that no-one has to live like that.’

  
     



3 Cultivating peace
Elise Boulding has continually drawn attention to the work for peace achieved by women, children, and simple human contact. (She recalls how in 1992 the two Middle East negotiators in Oslo were invited home by the Norwegian mediator and his diplomat wife, whose two-year-old played on the floor as they talked. ’The effect of the child’s presence on getting them down the road would never have occurred to a male diplomat’). She also recognises a basic opposition existing in all individuals and societies: the need to bond with other people exists in tension with the need for ‘one’s own space’ and acknowledgement as an individual. Balancing the two is a creative exercise, and it never stops.

Peace building and peace keeping can never stop either: there will always be a need to maintain equilibrium (in the nature of things, always under threat) with constant accommodation and adjustment. As a commentator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remarked, ‘What is democracy if not a peace process without an end?’

Palestinians working for peace have just lost a visionary leader. The recent premature death of the politician Faisal Husseini is a tough blow to the Middle East peace process, already crippled by intransigence and bad faith – and by inability to deal with it by moving dialogue to a different level. There’s much to be learned from the story of the Oslo Accords at the beginning of the process – not least from the fact that the meetings were held in secret. Faisal Husseini knew this: ‘It was clear for us that we needed people far away from the media’, away from the official talks stumbling along in America.

He never forgot his first years in Jerusalem, when he began to meet Israelis ‘and see them as people for the first time, instead of soldiers who took our land and occupied our homes’. He set about learning Hebrew in order to communicate better. Friendships across the political divide were established – and conducted – privately. He was a model for many who have stressed the value of links between individuals as a way to transcend differences. ‘Personal relationships proved to be crucial in turning a crisis into a breakthrough,’ said the Oslo mediator.

‘Faisal Husseini was the voice of sanity,’ said Israeli politician Yossi Beilin, mourning his death. The two men, friends for decades, met frequently, and sometimes in public – as they did at the University of California in 1998, where they were asked ‘what would you like students to understand about the peace process that you both brought about?’ Yossi Beilin said: ‘Never say “I won’t meet with the other side”. Never say “The other side has nothing to tell me”.’ Faisal Husseini – another futurist in spirit – said: ‘I believe that there is no “impossible”. If there is a will, there is a solution. The peace process must be put in a way that it can still stand whatever changes there are in the future.’ His vision of the possible included a shared Jerusalem.

The peace-building that is going on all round the world is, much of it, private. How can face-to-face understandings be reached any other way? But that’s also the reason why too few people know about the seeds of peace culture that are being so widely sown. And that is the greatest reason why NGOs, and the communication networks they can create, are so crucial: people – especially young people – need to realise that ententes are possible, and in their hands.

Another thing: yes, people may not yet be sure that peace can be a shared vision. But they do know that fossil fuels need replacing, that water is growing scarcer and the land and air more poisoned, and that resources are unfairly distributed. All these things (and more) carry the seeds of war. The children of the 21st century, to whom Elise Boulding has dedicated her book, will be its victims. Can’t an empowering vision be created to change that?

Uri Savir was a leading Israeli negotiator in the Oslo talks. In 1994, with the support of the leading Palestinian representative, Abu Ala’a, he initiated a new programme: Israeli-Palestinian People-to-People. ‘Before my friendship with the negotiators in Oslo, I hadn’t really met any Palestinians before, and only in situations nurturing hatred and fear. Peace may be agreed by statesmen – but it is built only by the peoples.’ The Programme’s aim was a broad coalition of NGOs, for ‘social, cultural, political and economic changes’ in order to achieve peace. All kinds of projects got under way. ‘But, alas, the world around us changed.’ It was clear by 2000 (when the peace process was supposed to have reached agreement) that ‘by-pass solutions’ were not the answer. ‘Real removal of obstacles for interaction’ was: and that is what – with vision – has to be achieved.

The International Peace Research Association (Elise Boulding was a co-founder) held its 18th conference in 2000. You can get an idea of the range of peace-building today by looking at the topics covered. Peace education training. The environment. Human rights education and issues. Solving problems of peace and security in Burundi, in Ethiopia, on the European border, in Indonesia, in Kosovo, in South Africa, in the former Soviet Union, in Sri Lanka. A proposal for a global nonviolent peace force. Community relations in Northern Ireland. Japan: its Korean minority citizens, and its peace constitution, and its women’s peace movement. Collective security and international law. Triple-track diplomacy. Forgiveness and reconciliation. Conflict transformation. Nonviolence in child-rearing. Globalisation and militarisation.... That’s less than half. And only one of many conferences where people are able to meet, talk, share ideas – and begin to ‘remove the obstacles for interaction’.

Israeli human rights professor Edy Kaufman says ‘To project ideas for conflict solution is part of the challenge for academics. They should have a vision....In the historic context of changing things, even if it looks as though the odds are against us, we have a part to play.’ Sari Nusseibeh, Palestinian university head, replies: ‘We can always talk as individuals.’ Exactly.


 
   


A VISIONARY LIFE: FAISAL IBN ABDEL KHADER HUSSEINI
Born: Baghdad, 1940
Married: Najat. One son, one daughter
Education: At school in Egypt until 1958. Studied science in Cairo and Baghdad. Studied history at University of Beirut from 1977
Career: an official of the newly-created Palestine Liberation Organisation from 1964; in Palestine Liberation Army (1967); X-ray technician in Jerusalem (1969-77); from 1982, working for peace through politics and private action; a leading committee member and representative for the Palestine National Authority; founder and leader of the Jerusalem National Council-Palestine from 1993
Peace work: working to establish and maintain Israeli-Palestinian dialogue from 1982; leading negotiator from 1991; leader of PLO’s Higher Committee for peace talks from 1993; (with Hanan Ashrawi) founded Palestine Human Rights Information Centre as part of on-going vigilance over Palestinian Authority human rights abuses; hunger strike in sympathy with Palestinian prisoners in Israel (1995); promoted idea of shared Jerusalem; advocate of peace and nonviolence
Died: while visiting Kuwait, May 31 2001)

 
     




Elise Boulding: ‘Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History’. Syracuse University Press, 2000
Richard Norman: ‘Ethics, Killing and War’. Cambridge University Press, 1995
Sebastião Salgado: ‘Migrations’ and ‘Children: Refugees and Migrants’, both published by Aperture. ‘Migrations’ is also a touring exhibition

 
     

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