In a world where we hear about violence and war on a daily basis, it can be difficult for us to understand what is meant by peace. We often understand things with reference to their opposites and this is no exception. We tend to think of peace as the absence of war rather than consider its positive aspects, for we have not known peace in our world but we know war and violence well. On Sunday 21 September, we have an opportunity to focus on peace: what peace means to us and how we can contribute to the challenge of making this world a peaceful place. Below you'll find some ideas about how you can get involved.
On Sunday 21 September, we celebrate the United Nations' International Day of Peace, which was established by a United Nations General Assembly resolution in 1981. It takes place on the same date each year and is marked by events small and large all over the world. It is also an international Day of Ceasefire for both political and personal conflict.
The International Day of Peace is an opportunity to inspire individuals, empower communities, celebrate victories for peace and rededicate our commitment to work for peace. Here are a few suggestions about how you can get involved:
Knowledge and understanding of issues behind conflict informs action such as demonstrating. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the knock-on effects, are a cause of mistrust and apprehension for both Christians and Muslims. To fall back on the news media and politician-speak; (often biased, misinformed, woefully inaccurate hype) to try to understand Islam is to do everyone a grave disservice. Prejudices about Muslims may import dispute and conflict to British cities where formerly harmony and co-operation ruled; and many Muslims are uneasy, fearing repercussions and "Islamophobia". Dr Chris Hewer is a theologian but raised issues relevant to our newsletter too. A longer version is available.
It was agreed the prefix 'moderate', often attached to Muslims considered 'safe', brands them, in the public imagination, a suspect community. No-one refers to Christians, Jews, or Sikhs as 'moderate' (though I claim to be a 'moderate' agnostic). The terms Jihad and Jihadi are misused. Jihad is the personal struggle to be a good Muslim and abide by Islamic precepts. The Lesser Jihad permits violence only when physically under attack or in defence of others who are. Killing is otherwise outlawed as we all are part of God's Holy Creation. Only combatants are lawful targets. Indiscriminate attacks are forbidden; as are weapons-of-mass-destruction. Iran refused to respond in kind when Saddam Hussein's troops gassed Iranian soldiers, because it was un-Islamic - so much for Israeli/Bush talk of Iranian nuclear bombs!
Western elective democracy is alien to Islam where politics is debated and discussed within the community, by reference to the Qur'an - God's Holy Word. In the Shi'a tradition there is a committee of senior Muslim scholars, Ayatollahs, who are the final arbiter. Today's Iranian pattern is traditional, with layers of elected politicians overseen by Ayatollahs on contentious issues. They declared nuclear weapons un-Islamic. Sunnis are traditionally supposed to have electoral colleges to choose wise and pious leaders; but practice is something else.
Justice, fairness and equality are dealt with in the Qur'an which was, for centuries, miles ahead of western ideas. Women should enjoy equality and Sharia law is fair, adaptive, and respects the vulnerable. Muslims are only guardians of property, exploitation is forbidden, and charity and care of others is a necessity. Sometimes practices are very different, particularly towards women, often because men have for generations managed the affairs of religion and state. Women's education is awakening prospects for dramatic change.
Afghanistan in the 1970s was a sophisticated and civilized society until the US and USSR interfered. The constant war since 1979 has decimated everything. The Taliban, the most recent invention of the US, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, unleashed further trouble. In the overflowing Afghan refugee camps of the Pakistan North West Frontier, the bereaved and destitute were indoctrinated by Wahabi preachers imported from Saudi Arabia. Wahabism is an extreme Muslim cult which largely rejects all revision and progress of the last 1400 years. Women are to be covered, kept indoors and not educated; music is banned, and lots more. Stupidly, women are only to be tended by women doctors (uneducated ones?) Wahabism should have died out a century ago but for European interference, after World War I, which helped install the 'House of Saud' who resurrected it. Now it is promulgated wherever Saudi charity supports Mosques and Madrassas in deprived communities. The Taliban was the US brainwave to restore peace and calm to the imploding Afghanistan they had helped create after the Soviets withdrew. The Taliban set the country back even further. Their absurd ideas were resisted; they became increasingly corrupt and resorted to encouraging resurgence of poppy growth to tax at 10% to fund an increasingly bloody war. No-one was interested till the Trade Centre was attacked. Chris is pessimistic about European and American action which is generating considerable resentment and not achieving anything constructive.
Chris reminded us that, as with other religions, theory and practice can be very different.
Noel Hamel, 1 July 2008
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Lord Hurd of Westwell, Lord Owen (all former foreign secretaries) and Lord Robertson of Port Ellen (former Nato secretary-general).
During the Cold War, nuclear weapons had the perverse effect of making the world a relatively stable place. That is no longer the case. Instead, the world is at the brink of a new and dangerous phase - one that combines widespread proliferation with extremism and geopolitical tension.
Some of the terrorist organisations of today would have little hesitation in using weapons of mass destruction to further their own nihilistic agendas. Al-Qaeda and groups linked to it may be trying to obtain nuclear material to cause carnage on an unimaginable scale. Rogue or unstable states may assist, either willingly or unwillingly; the more nuclear material in circulation, the greater the risk that it falls into the wrong hands. And while governments, no matter how distasteful, are usually capable of being deterred, groups such as al-Qaeda, are not. Cold War calculations have been replaced by asymmetrical warfare and suicide missions.
There is a powerful case for a dramatic reduction in the stockpile of nuclear weapons. A new historic initiative is needed but it will only succeed by working collectively and through multilateral institutions. Over the past year an influential project has developed in the United States, led by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn, all leading policymakers. They have published two articles in The Wall Street Journal describing a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and articulating some of the steps that, cumulatively taken, could help to achieve that end. Senator John McCain has endorsed that analysis recently. Barack Obama is likely to be as sympathetic. A comparable debate is now needed in this country and across Europe. Britain and France, both nuclear powers, are well placed to join in renewed multilateral efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in existence. The American initiative does not call for unilateral disarmament; neither do we. Instead, progress can be made only by working alongside other nations towards a shared goal, using commonly agreed procedures and strategies.
The world's stockpiles of nuclear weapons are overwhelmingly controlled by two nations: the United States and Russia. While Washington is in possession of about 5,000 deployed warheads, Russia is reported to have well over 6,000, making its stockpile the largest in the world. It is difficult to understand why either the American or Russian governments feel that they need such enormous numbers of nuclear weapons.
Hard-headed Americans, such as Dr Kissinger and Mr Shultz, have argued that dramatic reductions in the number of nuclear weapons in these arsenals could be made without risking America's security. It is indisputable that if serious progress is to be made it must begin with these two countries. The US and Russia should ensure that the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991 continues to provide the basis for co-operation in reducing the number of nuclear weapons. The treaty's provisions need to be extended. Agreement should be reached on the issue of missile defence. The US proposal to make Poland and the Czech Republic part of their missile defence shield has upset the Kremlin. It has been a divisive issue, but it need not be. Any missile threat to Europe or the United States would also be a threat to Russia. Furthermore, Russia and the West share a strong common interest in preventing proliferation.
Elsewhere, there are numerous stockpiles that lie unaccounted for. In the former Soviet Union alone, some claim that there is enough uranium and plutonium to make a further 40,000 weapons. There have been reports of nuclear smuggling in the Caucasus and some parts of Eastern Europe. Security Council Resolution 1540, which obliges nations to improve the security of stockpiles, allows for the formation of teams of specialists to be deployed in those countries that do not possess the necessary infrastructure or experience in dealing with stockpiles... Transparency in these matters is vital and Britain can, and should, play a role in providing experts who can fulfil this important role.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty, for 40 years the foundation of counter- proliferation efforts, is in need of an overhaul. The provisions on monitoring compliance need to be strengthened. The monitoring provisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Additional Protocol, which require a state to provide access to any location where nuclear material may be present, should be accepted by all the nations that have signed up to the NPT. These requirements, if implemented, would have the effect of strengthening the ability of the IAEA to provide assurances about both declared nuclear material and undeclared activities. At a time when a number of countries, including Iran and Syria, may be developing a nuclear weapons programme under the guise of civilian purposes, the ability to be clear about all aspects of any programme is crucial.
Bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into effect would, similarly, represent strong progress in the battle to reduce the nuclear threat. The treaty would ban the testing of nuclear weapons, ensuring that the development of new generations of weapons ceases. However, it will only come into force once the remaining nine states who have not yet ratified it do so. Britain, working through Nato and the EU, must continue to encourage those remaining states that have not yet agreed to the Treaty - India, Pakistan, Egypt, China, Indonesia, North Korea, Israel, Iran and the United States - to ratify it. A modern non-proliferation regime will require mechanisms to provide those nations wishing to develop a civilian nuclear capability with the assistance and co-operation of those states that possess advanced expertise and that are able to provide nuclear fuel, spent-fuel management assistance, enriched uranium and technical assistance. But, in return, proper verification procedures must be in place and access for the IAEA must not be impeded.
Achieving real progress in reducing the nuclear weapons threat will impose obligations on all nuclear powers not just the US and Russia. The UK has reduced its nuclear weapons capability significantly over the past 20 years. It disposed of its freefall and tactical nuclear weapons and has achieved a big reduction of the number of warheads used by the Trident system to the minimum believed to be compatible with the retention of a nuclear deterrent. If we are able to enter into a period of significant multilateral disarmament Britain, along with France and other existing nuclear powers, will need to consider what further contribution it might be able to make to help to achieve the common objective.
Substantial progress towards a dramatic reduction in the world's nuclear weapons is possible. The ultimate aspiration should be to have a world free of nuclear weapons. It will take time, but with political will and improvements in monitoring, the goal is achievable. We must act before it is too late, and we can begin by supporting the campaign in America for a non-nuclear weapons world.
(excerpt from The Times, Wednesday 30 June 2008)
Dear Sir,Many thanks for the article on the need to achieve a 'world free of nuclear weapons' (30th June, 2008). It is of huge significance that individuals of the standing and experience of Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Lord Hurd of Westwell, Lord Owen and Lord Robertson of Port Ellen are willing to join Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn in bringing to our attention the great hazards posed by existing nuclear weapons arsenals. These are heartening signs that at last we may be turning away from the extreme hazards of the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) strategy, the lunatic brinkmanship of which is now gradually beginning to be realised and acknowledged. During an interview in March this year (Sarah van Gelder, Yes Magazine, Summer Edition) George Shultz is reported as saying, referring to the danger from these arsenals, 'I think it has dawned on people that we've gone to sleep on this subject' and 'The deterrent impact of Mutual Assured Destruction kept an uneasy peace, although if you were involved, you knew that there were more close calls than you were comfortable with.' We were all involved, we still are and we all maintain the sense of dread inspired by these weapons - justifiably so. Jim McCluskey
It tells us all we need to know about the mainstream media's priorities in reporting the war in Afghanistan that we learnt almost instantly the name of the army sniffer dog killed with his handler last month - it was Sasha, if you didn't see the reports - but no newspaper or television news programme gave the names of the four Afghan civilians killed a few days later when the British army fired on their car. An excellent Media Lens article titled "Some matter more - when 47 victims are worth 43 words" shows how systemic such reporting is in the mainstream media. See http://tinyurl.com/65jcuz. (Reproduced from Stop The War Coalition Newsletter, No. 1053 04 August 2008, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, T: 020 7278 6694, Web: http://www.stopwar.org.uk.) Stop the War Coalition is also supporting an exhibition of Iraqi art under occupation called "Riding on Fire." This takes place at Artiquea Gallery, 82 Wandsworth Bridge Road, London, SW6 2TF between 19 September and 31 October.
Following today's conference (Saturday 19 July), we hope to use the statement to re-invigorate the campaign to end the occupation of Iraq.
We call on those states responsible for the invasion and occupation of Iraq to terminate their illegal and immoral war, and express our solidarity with the Iraqi people in their struggle for peace, justice and self-determination.
In particular, we demand:
1. An immediate end to the US and UK-led occupation of Iraq;
2. Urgent action to fully address the current humanitarian crises facing Iraq's people, including help for the more than three million refugees and displaced persons;
3. An end to all foreign interference in Iraq's affairs, including its oil industry, so that Iraqis can exercise their right to self-determination;
4. Compensation and reparations from those countries responsible for war and sanctions on Iraq;
5. Prosecution of all those responsible for war crimes, human rights abuses, and the theft of Iraq's resources.
We demand justice for Iraq.
On 14 August, the Stop the War Coalition held an open meeting in central London. The purpose was for the public at large to consider and discuss the crisis in Georgia. Although called at short notice the meeting hall was packed to overflowing.
The Stop the War Coalition is opposed to the 'War on Terror' believing that henceforth conflicts must be resolved by peaceful means. We believe that any war simply adds to the numbers of innocent dead, causes untold suffering, results in political and economic instability on a global scale, increases racist tension and results in attacks on civil liberties. The Coalition, whose signed up membership numbers thousands and increases daily, is aware that the citizens of Britain and of the world do not want war and works to convince governments to seek and find peaceful solutions to conflicts.
The meeting was addressed by four speakers: Mark Almond, lecturer in History, Oxford University and Caucasus expert; Kate Hudson, Chair of CND; Boris Kagarlitsky, former Director of the Institute of Globalisation Studies, Moscow and author; and John Rees, Officer of Stop the War Coalition and author, after which a discussion took place.
The consensus of all those present are summarised in the points listed below:
Jim McCluskey, 15 August 2008