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October 16, 2005Peace is more persuasive (Sivaraksa)
Peace is more persuasive
by Sulak Sivaraksa
The September 11 terrorist attacks were shocking in their nature and
magnitude. They were rightly condemned by leaders around the world and
demand a response. However, by responding violently to the attacks the
USA and its allies, especially the UK , will only perpetuate and
escalate the cycle of violence that led to the attacks in the first
If the USA and its allies truly want to lead the world they must
respond in a mature and nonviolent manner. Unfortunately some leading
politicians in the USA are under the control of the arms merchants
making such a response unlikely. However, if the USA chooses to act this
way it can ensure that it will have the moral authority to lead the
world for the foreseeable future.
The USA is now the world’s only superpower. Since the end of the
Second World War it has ruled the world with a combination of economic
and military power and since the collapse of the Soviet Union its role
has been unchallenged. It is a great empire like the British Empire was
before it, but unless it heeds the lessons of history it will soon go
into decline much as the British Empire did.
The US campaign against Iraq has gone on for over a decade now and
for what result? Saddam Hussein still remains in power and the Iraqi
people must endure untold suffering as a result of harsh trade
sanctions. However in the Iran-Iraq war Saddam was supported by the USA
and supplied with its arms.
The USA is now engaged in a war against the Taliban regime in
Afghanistan . In the 1980s the USA supported, funded and trained the
Mujahideen in the fight against the Soviet Union ’s invasion of
Afghanistan . Osama bin Laden was among those trained by the USA .
Subsequent political manouverings led to the birth of the Taliban regime
that the US is suddenly intent on destroying. Yet in supporting
violence in this way they have experienced the ultimate blowback, a term
coined by the CIA to refer to unintended consequences of policies that
were kept secret from the American people.
US foreign policy in the Middle East has apparently played a part in
the escalation of violence in that region. Former US Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright said that the death of 500,000 children as a result
of US economic sanctions was “a very hard choice” but “the price is
worth it.” This kind of attitude combined with ongoing conflicts and
poverty in the region has fostered the feelings of resentment that led
to the terrorist attacks against the USA .
If the USA wants to truly demonstrate its moral leadership of the
world it could begin by acknowledging its past failures. If it truly
examines its role in the region it will understand that its involvement
has been one disaster after the other. It also must remember the law of
karma. Violent actions have violent consequences as the people of the
USA so tragically saw on the 11 th of September.
A story from the life of the Buddha demonstrates the law of karma.
The King of Kosala wanted to be related to the Buddha, so he asked for a
princess from the royal Sakya family to be his queen. The Sakya, the
clan in which the Buddha was born, was very caste conscious and refused
to allow marriage outside their related clans. Although they regarded
Kosala as a mightier kingdom, they still did not wish to regard that
royal family, castewise, as equal to theirs. However, a compromise was
reached by sending a princess, born of a slave girl, to be the Queen of
Kosala. Vidhudhabha was the son of this queen. Neither he nor his father
knew that the Queen was an outcaste. When the young prince went to
visit his maternal grandfather and maternal relatives among the Sakya
clan, he accidentally found out that they all looked down upon him
behind his back because his mother was a slave girl, so the young prince
vowed to kill all members of the Sakya clan in revenge.
When Vidhudhabha succeeded his father to the throne of Kosala, he
marched his army northward. The Buddha knew of the situation. He went to
sit at the border of the two kingdoms thrice and was able to stop the
warlike king. Yet the Buddha could not convince the King to get rid of
his own hatred and desire for revenge. Eventually the King managed to
kill almost all members of the Sakya family. Yet on his return home
Vidhudhabha and his troops were drowned in the river.
One could draw many conclusions from this incident. However, if we
believe in the law of karma, we should realise that each individual,
each family, each nation will reap the benefits or otherwise of their
own deeds, speech and actions. Although the Sakya clan produced a
wonderful person who eventually became the Buddha and preached that
people should get rid of caste and class barriers, they held views in
opposition to his teaching. They also deceived the King of Kosala who
was much mightier than them. As for Vidhudhabha his bad thoughts lead
him to bad action and his life ended tragically.
So how does this story relate to armed conflict? For Buddhists the
law of karma reminds us that when faced with violence we must not react
against it violently. Not only Buddhists, but Christians, Jews and
Muslims—people of all religions—need to be mindful when confronted with
violence. Then they can find the skillful means to deal with the
It is very important to understand that nonviolence is an effective
and very powerful response to conflict. It does not mean doing nothing.
It is actually a powerful force that can be acted upon. Peace is not
merely the absence of war. Peace is a proactive, comprehensive process
of finding ground through open communication and putting into practice a
philosophy of non-harm and sharing resources. Creating a culture of
peace is an active process.
When confronted with large-scale conflicts there is no question that
they demand a response. The problem is that many people believe that a
nonviolent response means doing nothing whereas responding with force or
violence means doing something. The Middle Way of Buddhism defines very
well how one should respond to violence. It is about avoiding extremes.
The extremes being doing nothing on the one hand or responding with
similar violence on the other.
Although the US and UK have already started bombing Afghanistan there
is still time to seek nonviolent alternatives. The rhetoric of a “just
war” cannot be taken seriously. The former Labor government in the UK
didn’t support the US in their involvement in Vietnam . The UK is in a
powerful position and can lead the rest of the world in seeking a
nonviolent response if it has the courage and support to do so.
I met with a representative of the US Embassy on Thursday and he told
me that the US had to attack Afghanistan and there was no alternative.
Many of the major media outlets also put forward the view that there is
no alternative and that the war is just. However, they are under control
of the multi-national corporations and their reporting is not
independent. They maintain the same “just war” rhetoric that we hear
from the leaders of the US and its allies.
In order to create a culture of peace, first we must make society
more just, more fair, and give equal rights to all people. The
imposition of so-called peace has, in fact, at times been used as a tool
of suppression. Look at the many programs for pacification taken
throughout history and the world. In many cases, the institutionalised
definition of peace is tantamount to the suppression of righteous
struggles for equal rights and justice. In other cases, the
institutionalisation of peace is really propaganda for maintaining the
status quo of an unjust government or system. Thus the development of a
culture of peace really begins at ground level.
If we act nonviolently and create a culture of peace then we can
ensure that we have long-term peace. The USA has the world’s largest
military, but nothing could protect it from what happened on the 11 th
of September. Only a nonviolent response can provide it with protection
against further attacks.
Sulak Sivaraksa received the Gandhi Millenium Award (read) for
upholding the principles of truth and nonviolence in India on 2 October
2001, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.