29 August 2007

A Peace Racketeer speaks out

I came across this article by Bruce Bawer this morning. For reasons that are probably obvious (if not, read "about me" to your right), I found it both insulting as well as inaccurate. Bawer argues that the peace movement, which he refers to as a "racket," is some sinister effort aimed at destroying America and individual liberty, and he suggests that this movement's heart is not grassroots activists (his words are "naive Quakers", which could be the subject of a whole other post), but a professional cadre of individuals seeking to subvert the Western world.

Aside from the paranoia that is rampant some of his rantings, Bawer also demonstrates some remarkably poor scholarly skills, especially with his insistence upon using leading peace scholar Johan Galtung's remarks given in the context of events as evidence that his theories, which are argued more in books rather than more political speeches or editorials, are not only flawed but destructive. I will grant you that some peace groups openly align with political groups that many in the West, myself included, might find distasteful. Yet this reality should not be used to make a judgment of peace studies as a field, as the two are not sufficiently linked together as to be relevant.

Bawer also asserts that peace studies are illiberal (using a classical definition of liberal here) because of their alleged anti-Americanism. This too, however, is unfounded. Indeed, peace studies and conflict resolution are rooted quite firmly in the liberal tradition. The difference is not that these fields are illiberal, but rather they have moved beyond a very limited definition to a more expansive view of what liberal societies consist of.

What really seems to be Bawer's problem, though, is his distaste for the notion of structural violence. Unfortunately for him, the validity of that concept has been excepted in academic disciplines well outside of just a few peace studies programs. Indeed, recognizing that whole systems and structures of societies can in themselves be agents of oppression seems more like a far deeper understanding than simply blaming human suffering on that which is easily visible at the surface. Heaven forbid someone recognize that a terrorist somewhere justify his violence on the grounds that his family has no food. Recognizing that the terrorist has a complaint does not make one sympathetic to his chosen method of voicing his grievance. It just means that perhaps some people, say peace studies and conflict resolution folks, for instance, may have realized that one effective way to reduce the threat of terrorism is to see that basic human needs are met and that human rights are respected, as opposed to the current approach of the U.S. government and others that suggests that shooting brown men in loose clothing is more effective. I hate to break it to Bawer, but blowing up terrorist camps is treating the symptom, not the problem. I agree that from time to time treating immediate symptoms is necessary, but if one never makes a holistic assessment of the body upon which the symptoms appear, there's a fairly strong chance that those symptoms -- active terrorists in this case -- will appear again.

The final troubling element in Bawer's doomsday scenario is that affluent young students are being attracted to peace studies programs, as they prepare for careers in public service, especially in government or nonprofit work. Clearly, the fact that the affluent are studying something radical should remind us of two things. 1) Peace studies isn't offered very widely, and it's usually done at private institutions, where the affluent are more likely to go. 2) Bawer is afraid of the affluent young learning something outside the established norm because affluence is a ticket to power in this society, and if the affluent change their opinions over the course of succeeding generations, then society might change.

Sorry Bruce, but societies change. While you and your cronies were busy protecting American liberties, others around the world were raising hell about the need to protect the liberties of those in the camps, the killing fields, and the villages across the world for much of the past 70 odd years. Many of us still are.

Allow me to make this confession. I'm dedicated to peace. One needn't prepare for peace by preparing for war. And preparing for peace by preparing for peace is too complicated for many to grasp. Rather, we must prepare for peace by learning how to interact with our adversaries without violence. However, there will be many around the world that will continue to be drawn to violence for the next several centuries, I'm afraid. Even if we were to shoot or detain all of those people, more would come up. This isn't because mass-scale violence is part of nature (we're the only species that kills its other members in large quantities for reasons not related to food, shelter, or species regeneration), but because shooting people doesn't get to the root of the problem. Like it or not, structural violence exists. Learning how to combat that violence, with an array of weapons ranging from food to access to sophisticated criminal justice systems, will be far less costly over the long term, and will result in a more sustainable world where not only American rights and liberties are protected, but those of every last person on earth. To effect this change, we need time, people, patience and the acceptance that no political, social or cultural system is without flaws. Finally, we need to accept that change isn't to be feared, but welcomed. That is how you prepare for peace: by seeking to preserve not just American or Western lives, but everyone's.

Hat tip to Arts and Letters Daily.

No comments: