Globalization, Violence and Peaceful Alternatives

By Gholamali Khoshroo, The Iran Project, February 9, 2015

Globalization as the most dominant factor of the present time has increasingly shaped a new era of interconnected and interdependent human actions in economy, culture, communication and society. Such massive and great transformation has changed human interactions particularly in market (trade, investment, finance) and communication (information technology, media networks). This far reaching process has brought in new actors (global organizations, international NGOs) and new rules that have major impact on people’s lives all around the world.

This global trend has brought opportunities that include growth in knowledge and science, access to information technology, access to world market and fostering economic growth and challenges such as undermining cultural identities, neglecting sustainable development, widening gap between poor and rich, it has also facilitated access to means for violence. This may range from proliferation of weapon of mass destruction to terror networks and systematic surveillance and secretive intimidation of people. Global political structure fails to address the challenges of arm race and of hegemonic unilateralism.

Violence at the age of globalization is a multifaceted phenomenon and has different connotations and applications. We may identify three interrelated aspects and applications of violence in modern time.

A. Physical violence refers to exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse. In this sense it is imposing harm and pressure against others privately or publicly. At national and global levels violence prevails, security challenge and political and social conflicts are settled with use of force.

B. Structural violence results from the socio-economic inequality on the global scale. It refers institutional impositions and harms, that otherwise  are both predictable and preventable. Structural violence includes the poverty that has caused suffering with the dramatic increases of inequality and systematic marginalization of societies, both at global and national levels.

C. Violence as oppose to freedom, in this sense violence happens by preventing individuals from being able to create power by competing and forming new groups. For Hanna Arendt tyranny is both the least powerful and the most violent form of government. Tyranny forces individuals and diminishes their capability to form power.

For each of the above-mentioned conceptions there are peaceful remedies. To my view, dialogue, Justice and freedom are three alternatives for a world free from violence.

In our interdependent and interconnected world, where global threats are prevailing, security has become everybody’s most crucial concern.  There is in effect no country or continent that is free from the danger of violence, terrorism and security challenges. Arms races, political alliances and military expenditure have been unable to bring peace and prosperity to the world. Indeed we are making the world more insecure by expending so much in the security apparatus. Human history has witnessed so many wars because of fear and threat.

Hence we must adopt a new perspective. The constitution of UNESCO stipulates, “Wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” Relying on the political and economic arrangements of governments would not lead to lasting peace, “the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.”

1 Dialogue

Security and peace cannot prevail without meaningful engagement in dialogue, and dialogue will not be successful without a solid commitment to moral and spiritual standards and going beyond selfish and short-sighted interests. Today, political and cultural trends and processes in the Middle East and the world clearly show that the dialogue among cultures and religions is not merely a moral recommendation, but an imperative.

“Dialogue” is tantamount to the use of wisdom and foresight to understand the meaning, discover the realities through language, logic and empathy. During “dialogue”, finding common grounds and shared ideas enjoys the same degree of importance as attention to the existing differences . In the plural world of today, it is through the acceptance of diverse cultural identities that other cultures are recognized. Our belonging , in religious or cultural sense fosters our identity,  this identity should be open to others to enrich human life. The human life is intermingled with differences and variations. Nobody can lead a healthy and successful life in this world on his or her own. Everybody’s happiness, in fact, depends on the happiness of other people.

2 Justice

Justice is a universally shared demand and aspiration heard and expressed all over the world. The quest for justice is core to our collective global consciousness. Objections against socio-economic inequality, the increasing inability of various political systems including western democracies in responding adequately to the global frustration, underscore the universal urgency of responding to the global dissatisfaction in a collective manner. This collective response needs a collective wisdom, and thus contributions from various traditions, cultures, and political modalities to arrive at a general definition of and requirement for justice without constraining the diversity of the conditions and the localities of the remedies; there is no monopoly and no one universal prescription fits all.

In addition to economic well-being, people need culture, spirituality and ethics. Economics without ethical boundaries will lead to the destruction of a healthy environment for humans, and instead of increasing satisfaction will lead to a race towards greedy consumerism and the destruction of inter-generational resources.

3 Religion and Democracy

In the age of globalization, religious solidarity and sentiments fill the space left by the declining of traditional ties and social institutions that could nurture social solidarity. Religions perform a very real and prominent function in the areas of creating meaning and community.  Religion has two pivotal aspects: believing and belonging. Believing in Allah, the most merciful, helps bring people closer together.

In recent decades, Islamic revivalism, as a very influential political factor, is playing a greater role in relations between Islam and the West. Such a broad based social movement as a global trend is much sensitive to socio-political developments of the world. For a constructive dialogue between Islam and the West it is not advisable to expect Muslims to be secular in order to be a good party for dialogue. Such an approach is counterproductive and only widens the gap and deepens mistrust. Thus a more practical and appropriate way to deal with Muslim societies is to promote democratic principles of the dignity, and respect moderate trend in the Islamic world.

At the same time, with great disappointment, we are witnessing, that fanatic and Takfiri groups in the Islamic world, claim exclusive access to truth and engage in a very dark-minded and superficial reading of the Holy text. They regard any other group either Muslim or non-Muslim as unbeliever and while promising heaven, turn human life into hell. Clash and conflict against followers of religions or the sectarian violence and killing within religions are horrible consequences of such mentality.

Imam Ali (the first Imam of Shiite) has said people are identifiable in two groupings either your brother in the religion or like you in the creation. The reading of the text should be in light with the compassion and mercy of God in an enlightening manner. Divine prophets as well as great philosophers and moral thinkers have endeavored throughout human history to eradicate selfishness, aggression and tyranny. Despite those efforts, human thirsts for power and shortsighted benefits have caused destruction and war in human history.

We should go beyond fundamentalism – secularism dichotomy and promote religious democracy in the Islamic world. Policies based on containment of Islamic revivalism and approaches to use radical groups to achieve political ends only inflame violence and extremism.  This trend endangers security and stability and weakens moral foundation of society. Divine prophets as well as great philosophers and moral thinkers have endeavored throughout human history to eradicate selfishness, aggression and tyranny. Despite those efforts, human thirst for power and shortsighted benefits has caused destruction and war in human societies.

4 World against Violence and Extremism

Mindful of this treacherous trend, the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution based on proposals offered by the Iranian President Rouhani – thanks to Italy for being the only European country to cosponsor this resolution- who called for a World against Violence and Extremism (WAVE). This resolution condemns all measures that originate from the culture of tyranny, dictatorship and extremism such as use or threat of force against territorial integrity and political independence of nations; and further condemns any agitation to ethnic, racial and religious hatred.

In conclusion, the path to a world free from violence passes through dialogue, ethics, justice, development and freedom. All nations should enjoy equal opportunities for economic and social development. It is necessary for a peaceful international community that everyone benefits from economic freedom and the right to determine their political destiny. Indeed, any type of economic sanction or military threat will instead of promoting peace and security, merely create humanitarian crisis an aggravate conflict and divergence.

Therefore, to remove suspicion and mistrust and promote mutual respect and constructive dialog on equal basis are necessary for the establishment of peace and tranquility. Spiritual thinkers and religious figures have a sacred duty to invite humankind to dialogue, friendship and peace, as well as justice and freedom and mutual assistance.

This article was written by Gholamali Khoshroo. It was firstly presented at a conference with the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome on February 9, 2014. Mr. Khoshro is former Iran’s ambassador to Switzerland and he is recently appointed as new UN ambassador.