When I think of all the global issues going on in the world today—overpopulation, water insecurity, food scarcity, organic and genetically modified foods, energy insecurity, shelter problems, disaster response and disaster risk reduction, education, environment, health and sanitation, public health, gender empowerment, youth empowerment, peace and conflict issues, human trafficking, welfare programmes, etc., more and more I’m bothered by peace and conflict issues. I love working in multiple areas of international and community development, yet at the same time I recognize there are some huge global crises that have big implications if we fail to resolve them. The peace crisis is one of them.
I feel like I want to get involved more and more in conflict resolution since I’m currently not working in the area. Many situations honestly occupy my mental space and heart space, and two are the situation between Israel and Palestine and Iran’s situation. One reason I think about it is because I was invited to help with a project in Gaza and the West Bank in October. I wasn’t able to go because it was decided by others that I shouldn’t go as they saw it as a waste of resources. I still wanted to go. Later, I noticed that fighting had broken out around the time I was going to be there.
Israel & Palestine
With the recent mini-war, my heart sunk. It seems like the same story plays again and again. I don’t know what solution is best at all, but it really calls for a higher calling than just peacekeeping. Peacekeeping doesn’t work and is nothing to really brag about. It’s the same as tolerance and status quo and is superficial in nature. Peacemaking is the harder work (and work I think the UN should engage in much more than peacekeeping) and it’s what we need here. True peace is not just the absence of physical conflict, it’s the presence of wholesome unity. Peace isn’t the lack of war, it’s the presence of honouring connections. In fact, the attainment of true peace will give the gift we all seek: the end of war. The lack of such peace always leaves the door open for renewed conflict.
The scary thing for me is everyone talks about a two-state solution as if a two state solution will mean peace. Will it? You mean they will never fight again with a two-state solution? I’m not so sure, not if we don’t deal with the heart of the matter. The fact that the whole world has been fighting of the boundaries of these two states and people-groups is a symptom of the problem, not the true problem itself. I definitely want a two-state solution but I hope in the process, we do more of the heavy inner peace-making work required for there to be true peace. I’m thankful for younger generations who are understanding this more and more.
I’ve learned this type of work is not done at a national level but an individual level. But how does a country initiate and run a programme of change that must be done at the individual level and passed on as a legacy from parent to child? I’m not sure. I’ve seen some examples. I’ve seen a President Kigame try to put his entire country/government through Rick Warren’s Purpose-driven Life plan. I’ve seen Mandela try to live and teach by example reconciliation and love as a rebel in jail and as the first president of a new South Africa. I’ve seen a pastor’s wife write a novel that humanized Black American slaves for the first time in the eyes of white Americans (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin) exposing prejudices and partly helping to lay the groundwork for the coming civil conflict in the United States of America.
After the 29th of November vote in the UN to make Palestine a “non-member state with observer status” the Israeli Prime Minister was not happy. Only the US, Canada, some Pacific Island states, and the Czech Republic voted against it. Everyone else voted for it or abstained. Even though an abstention could mean that the country was not against it but did not want to be seen as for it or that the country was not for it but did not want to be seen as against it, countries siding with Palestine’s membership were numerous enough for it to pass. The next day, the Israeli Prime Minister announced that Israel would expand settlements in to the E-1 corridor and that he would withhold tax revenues from Palestinian Authority that runs parts of the West Bank. After hearing this, I know, in the end, for even the peace-keeping solution of two states to happen, a few issues need to be addressed.
1. Israel’s expanding settlements must stop. It’s against international law. And now the Israeli Prime Minister has announced they will build in the E-1 corridor, a rocky desert area separating Jerusalem from an Israeli settlement to the east (Maale Adumim), in a sense cutting the West Bank into a north region and a southern region. Worse, yet, there is no hope for a two state solution if Israel continues expanding settlements into Palestinian territory, uprooting Palestinian homes.
2. There needs to be some unification of West Bank and Gaza governments. Otherwise, I fear it will be more like a three-state solution that might lessen the chances for a true peace. Right now, the moderate Fatah government led by Mahmoud Abbas, runs the West Bank, and Fatah does not see eye-to-eye with Hamas that runs Gaza and is less-likely to accept a two-state solution.
3. Arbitration or neutral mediation will again be required (though no group is really neutral). And such mediation must take into account the various factions within both Israel and Palestine. At the same time the mediation must heed the fact that there are some groups with more power than other groups such as Hamas and Fatah in Palestine. Treating these states (Israel and Palestine) like one ideologically contiguous or homogenous whole would be a mistake.
4. Such mediation must involve local help from the region. A two-state solution or any solution has great implications for peace and tensions within the entire region. If peace is to last, it’s important that there is regional support for the solution that is formed.
There is always more, but these are the thoughts that first come to mind for the region. And not far away from Israel in the region is Iran, another troubling spot.
The main argument for Iran not getting nuclear weapons derives from the same us-them mentality that I talked about in the Partisan Values section. I don’t think I want to think about the situation like that. In fact, as the US asserts its sovereignty and has done so in situations like the Iraq war it becomes problematic to refuse the right of sovereignty to another nation.
It’s hard to discuss such things with people who feel that the U.S. has never done anything wrong or has not done a lot of bad things over the years. It’s easier to talk about such things with people who realise that the U.S. has made bad decisions in international relations over the years (and almost all countries have to some extent). In a group that understands this, people usually understand that power corrupts. This is not unique to the U.S. You can find it in China, Russia, India, etc. Look at any world power at any time, they’ve done some regrettable things. Empire corrupts, and the U.S. has had the largest, strongest, most powerful empire in history. Now here is where thinking diverges. I have had friends say, “Yes, the U.S. has done bad things but it’s better to have the U.S. be the superpower who messes up than for China to be the world dominating power or Iran or something like this. At least we’re benevolent and mean well. We’re the least bad.” I’m not going to address the idea that we are benevolent or mean well, especially given the fact that it’s really hard to define who is “we” or “you” when you are referring to a government, and given the fact that most people have good intentions with their actions.
I do think it’s interesting that some of my friends feel that any world power is bad, but the U.S. is the least bad option in the place of a hyper-power compared to any other country. The least harm is done. I find this idea fascinating. I don’t think I would have ever said it. I find the position untenable for two reasons.
First, it uses a relative scale for judging goodness or correctness. I personally do not like this and notice this same problem at work. People will say to me “Well, we’re better than _______” and they name a company. The problem with using relative scales to judge how you’re doing is that you can think you’re doing well because you’re better than group A, but in reality group is super bad, and you are only very bad. It confuses where you actually are and how you’re actually doing because it uses the wrong lens. It’s like saying because I smoke 4 packs of cigarettes a day and my friend smokes 6 packs a day, I’m treating my lungs well. No, you’re not, my friend. You’re not treating yourself or your lungs well. Smoking 4 packs of cigarettes a day is still quite harmful.
Secondly, it uses the us-them mentality again. Because I’m good and he is bad, it’s better that I am in control. This has the effect, often times, of clouding your judgment. People forget to be critical of their country, government, agency, department, ministry, leader, etc. and they forget to be critical of themselves. It’s funny. If you take a moment and try to see the situation from another person’s point of view, there are hosts of people around the world who actually believe the exact same original statement but about their own country—the world would have been a better place if my country was the lone superpower. We would have governed better. The fact that many people think the same thing means the statement holds little value for me. The main question is how are you governing, how are you using your power?
So this line of thinking always leads to the main thrust of why Iran nuclear weapons is bad: "they are not us and cannot be trusted with such power." We can be trusted, and luckily we have been the lone hyper-power in the world, but any other country would have made the world a much darker place. Here are four devil’s advocate arguments why Iran having nuclear weapons may not be as bad as people think.
1. There’s the sovereignty issue. Is it fair to claim sovereignty but to say another sovereign state is not allowed to have it? In this case, many people’s values systems place safety/security as a higher concern than equality, fairness or justice.
2. There is the issue of the balance of power. I’ve have heard that letting Iran gain nuclear weapons creates a stronger united Arab world against the lone country of Israel. The problem with this is that it is too simplistic. The Arab world is unified in that way. Plus Iranians are Persian and have “enemies” within the Arab world. For instance, Saudi Arabia is not too fond of Iran. No rather, the power balance is in favor of Israel at the moment. If Iran were to get nuclear weapons it moves the region to a more balanced point. I don’t like the term stable because it often implies that it will remain that way forever. I prefer the description “balanced” because from this point of balance the future possibilities can bifurcate, trifurcate, or do any number of things. I also dislike the idea of stability through armament or peace through weapons. However, in that world, a nuclear-armed Iran does balance powers. Examples like India and Pakistan, though different in many ways, show that both sides having nuclear weapons can act as a deterrent or decrease conflict.
3. Many think Iran would use nuclear weapon but I think Iran is more self-preservationist than that. There is a difference between a suicide bomber and the leader of Iran. I don’t think he has a death wish and I believe he knows what would happen if a nuclear weapon were fired at Israel or another country like the U.S.
4. As technology continues to advance in the world, I have a feeling that more states will inevitably get nuclear weapons or the capacity for nuclear weapons anyway. Japan is an example of a country that has the capacity and facilities but has not created any stockpiled bombs.
I don’t want to say much about the Syria situation. More than 60,000 people have died in this civil war, and it’s still not over. Different countries, of course, are arming both sides: the Syrian government as well as the rebels. I really desire peace in this situation and the entire region continues to perplex me with the intricacies of the causes, factions, agendas, histories, memories, and motivations. But I do predict a few things.
Assad will be gone for sure. He will not remain in power. I believe he knows this at this point. But he’s stuck in a game of self-preservation. If he tried to abdicate his leadership and leave the countries, I believe his government cronies and military would not let him because they don’t want to be left to suffer at the hands of the people and the rebels and the new government they hope to set up. At the same time, Assad knows that if he stays in the country, the end is near. I’m not sure what he will do, but, sadly, judging by the actions on all sides, including other countries watching or participating, Assad will be removed one way or the other.
Again, his removal does not mean peace. It just means one person has been removed and another will be propped up. Just as a two-state solution doesn’t necessarily mean peace, there is a need for some deeper reconciliation and redemptive work at the heart of the people on the ground. I’ve been slowly moving toward this direction and I’ve been moved toward this direction. I’m not sure, yet, at the moment how to get involved or if I will directly.