For the Love of Peace

Gary Girdhari
My friend phoned me: a voice full of nervous desperation because he did not know what action to take…. My friend – he is brilliant (one of most brilliant persons I know) – a modern renaissance man, unassuming, low profile, quiet to the point of reticence sometimes, until you get him started. He discusses Neitzsche, Camo, Hobbes, Plato and Hegel with the same ease as he would talk about Cezanne, Gauguin, or the Bhagvat Gita, about epistemology, consociationalism, federalism, Marxism, quantum physics or the theory of relativity, X-ray diffraction and the double helix of DNA. My friend is an accomplished guitarist, an avid cyclist, holds a black belt in karate, and can cook a variety of dishes – very well. He can build a web page in an hour, build complex computers or repair one, and set up beeper, or cell phone or internet services. In addition, he writes poetry and has completed a novel, and does a lot of serious writing. Yes, my friend is unassuming. He cannot do all things; but what more can you expect from one person?

Then one day, during the last week in November, he walked into a coffee shop in to purchase a cup of coffee. According to him, the patron and staff were white or looked white, while he is of good vintage mixed blood Guyanese, and brown skin, with curly black hair that he sometimes grows long. He told me that he never felt such an unexpected novel degrading experience before, but assuredly a counter staff blurted out to him, "I'm not serving any Muslim."

Being mature and intelligent, he understood intellectually what was happening, and more importantly, how he should react in the circumstance. He walked away, thinking in the year 2001…, and how it must have been for those people of color in times gone by!

When he called me, he also inquired if I had ever had a similar experience recently. I mentioned that I had one such experience when I was a student in the UK, and one here in Ozone Park when I was purchasing a property, but none related to September 11. However, I told him of incidents directed against Sikhs in Richmond Hill.

This is bigotry! An antipathy based on a faulty conclusion, a hostility built up towards others because they are different, or look like others who are presumed to possess objectionable qualities. It is cataloguing people without any objective evidence, and not based on any fact or real experience.

But this is nothing new. This kind of (unwarranted) bigotry and demonizing was necessary for conquests in the New World, in Africa and Asia; necessary in justifying slavery and indentureship; for degrading the subaltern; for exploitation of labor (especially the "others"). Thus the inequalities and unjust practices of the oppressors, and the indifference and benign obtuseness of those who 'sit on the fence'. Individual bigotry, and worse, institutional bigotry provide an intellectual façade for ruthless repression in many countries throughout the world. Often pseudo science buttressed the status quo of the day.

Inevitably in such circumstance, a culture of an underclass developed – ghettos, flavilas, shantytowns, reservations, barrios, and slums – that are characterized by illiteracy, disease, poverty, hunger, crime, prostitution, and backwardness. The underclass was/is a captured pool for labor exploitation and abuse. Rousseau observed that "Man is born free, and everywhere he is chains." Of course, we know that conquest resulted in decimation and genocide of native peoples, and expropriation of their land, water, forest, and their intellectual rights – making them 'foreigners' in their own land. Such moral (and physical) violence and concomitant oppression made the oppressed poorer, while the oppressors got richer and more arrogant. Thus it may be argued that the wealth of nations (and individuals), with all the sophistication of modernity, have been built from oppressive practices.

It is not unreasonable and not unexpected that the schism of 'them' and 'us' would be perpetuated. Natural laws and a consciousness of common human decency most decidedly created conflicts which are ongoing globally.

Here in America the dream or the opportunity can become a reality for some, but an oppressive millstone and a nightmare for many others who do not fit the mold of 'us'. In this regard, the legend on the Statue of Liberty, Give me your tired, your poor' // Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, // The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, // Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me, // I lift my lamp beside the golden door is getting out of date or anachronistic.

Why is it that so many countries continue to have persistent problems of violence and such inhumanity to other human beings? Somehow we are not learning the great lessons of history. We are becoming greedier. Our lust for more, our desire to accumulate and to hoard material possessions have become insatiable. Even those who profess (or posture) strong religious conviction appear possessed with the mania for ever-increasing material wealth. Sure it is necessary to pay the bills; but how many more millions does one need to be satisfied; how many more posh homes; how many more luxury cars; yacht, etc.? And can one in good conscious reconcile the lust for excessive material possessions when their fellow human beings are dying of hunger? Should we plunder and exploit others to maintain "our way of life". How can we say in good grace "Season's Greetings", Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Ramadan Mubarak, Shalom at this time when the religious faiths converge in solemnizing their beliefs? Luke ii, 14 resonates the commonality of all religions with these words: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men." How then can we justify such social discrepancies in a dispassionate way? "Peace & Harmony" are antithetical to these 'norms' of our societal constructs. This time of 'giving' to the poor, while certainly a humane gesture (and necessary at times), is not enough; it is like giving alms to a beggar today to keep him alive, thus prolonging his misery tomorrow. There must also be structural changes within the society to abolish poverty.

Nationally and internationally there are many movements advocating for peace. Without exception all nations pride themselves with glorious words in their motto, anthems, and other symbols of nationhood and sovereignty. Yet in reality and practice these symbols are defiled with blood, killings, violence, and sometimes genocide. Why is there the disconnect? Despite our ostentatious display of the trappings of opulence, there seems to be an epiphenomenon of inculcated raw animalistic greed and selfishness, a Darwinist tendency of survival of the fittest, literally, which runs counter to the invocations of all the religious and philosophical teachings. But the time is coming, the "peace train" is getting nearer…. And we must be optimistic. Did not Gandhi say, "I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world"?

This disconnect, this disparity, and this division into 'them' and 'us' creating the "have's" and "have not's" are causation central to anomie – be it nationally or internationally. The sooner we understand this and grapple with this reality, the faster we can be on the road to amity. Denial, overt or benign, is an extreme form of insincerity, and does not augur well for basic human relationship. When we glorify the Forbes 10 richest personalities and humor ourselves in flattering approbation, we are condoning great injustices. Aren’t we forgetting the basic tenets of humanity, and the purest value of all religion – to love thy neighbor as thyself?

In terms of partisan relationships, and in light of constant conflicts globally – that appear to have no end – it is probably opportune to change the dynamics of the dominant paradigm for reasonable solutions.

At the 55th plenary meeting on November 10 1998, the United Nations proclaimed the period 2001–2010 as the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World. (see Resolution) Well, the reality is evidence of a bad start! Now we should follow the advocacy of "The Peace Manifesto", and inculcate the enunciation into our daily lives.

To "reflect our commitment to justice and peace", Bill Quigley of Loyola Law School suggests ten principles for social justice.
A few points that should be emphasized for serious consideration:

  • Tolerance of differences
  • "non-judgmentalism


But tolerance by itself will not heal the wounds of our society, nor cure social isolation and despair. The focus must also be on the common good.

  • That justice must be restorative, rather than retributive.

The emphasis of restorative justice on healing the harm of crime, with a balanced focus on the offender, victim, and community, creates the foundation for a set of practices the current retributive system cannot achieve, because it is based on law and punishment. Restorative justice can bring together the victim, offender, and community and heal the harm of a crime.

Our judicial system, are based on a philosophy embraced by our current society focused on utilitarianism, expediency, and the pursuit of self-interest. Indeed, retributive justice values center on command, prohibition, permission, and punishment. Disregarding morality and values, our dominant judicial system came to focus on expediency and practicality, which is a utilitarian/individualistic approach. Such a retributive approach relies on a new mindset of reality through punishment (coercion) rather than rehabilitation by appealing to an individual’s reason and human conscience, resulting in freely chosen behaviors...

Restorative justice offers us an opportunity to address these problems, backed up by our traditional system, and renew the confidence of the public in our courts.

"to not just love their neighbors but also their enemies, for unlimited love (Matthew 5:38-48).

The world needs social justice and social equality, not only kindness and honesty. Peace is at the center of the common good, and forgiveness and reconciliation are the ways to peace.

Law and justice are not the same. Justice flows from the law and should reflect a system of values, including fairness, truth, honesty, compassion, and respect. Justice needs to be based on the principles of respect, mercy, and forgiveness. By far, forgiveness is the most difficult principle to understand and embrace in our current society.

  • Restorative justice seeks rehabilitation as the first choice.
  • The common good creates a culture of peace by uniting people and making them responsible for one another.
  • All are responsible for all, collectively, at the level of society or nation, not only as individuals." This is collective responsibility.

"Restoration was the primary focus of biblical justice systems...It was based on the need to seek shalom, the peace and well-being of the whole people. Shalom does not simply mean the absence of conflict. It means peace combined with justice and right relationships. The law was there to seek, protect and promote shalom."

The underlying theme of restorative justice is healing every person affected by a crime through reparation, rather than punishment, based on the values of truth, acceptance, apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Pope John Paul II observes: "Certainly there are many factors which can help restore peace, while safeguarding the demands of justice and human dignity. But no process of peace can ever begin unless an attitude of sincere forgiveness takes root in human hearts. When such forgiveness is lacking, wounds continue to fester, fueling in the younger generation endless resentment, producing a desire for revenge and causing fresh destruction. Offering and accepting forgiveness is the essential condition for making the journey towards authentic and lasting peace."

"Blessed are the peace makers," so said Jesus. And Gandhi harmonized the principle this way: "There is only life where there is love. Life without love is death. Love is the reverse of the coin of which the obverse is truth. It is my firm faith that we can conquer the whole world by truth and love."

Essentially, what is required of all of us, is to get off the high horse. We should learn our history – know who we are, learn about race, ethnicity, class, and culture. Respect will follow. We must recognize the mistakes of the past, and learn to be truthful in dealing with them. We should understand that we cannot continue to bear a malice towards the offspring of the "oppressors" because they were not there and did not do the wrong. The sins of the parent should not be borne by the children. But there must be an acknowledgement and some form of reparation.

Seeking forgiveness is not easy, but is necessary if one is to be forgiven. Bishop Tutu commented, "Forgiveness is not nebulous, unpractical and idealistic. It is thoroughly realistic. It is realpolitik in the long run." When these things happen, the mind becomes free, as Steve Biko said.

This is catharsis.

Bishop Tutu counsels: "It is not enough to say ‘let bygones be bygones’... Without memory there is no healing. Without forgiveness, there is no future... Vengeance leads only to revenge." Tutu’s wisdom is clear: "Retributive justice will adjudicate guilt, then the case is closed (so we think). But restorative justice is about the profound inability of retributive justice to effect permanent closure on great human actrocities. We aim to remember, to forgive and to go on, with full recognition of how fragile the threads of community are."

Historical wrongs must be rectified; the victimized must not be denied justice. If not "the rage of oppressed" will erupt over and over again.

Untimately, all parties feel the cleansing after the process. The soul of the nation is born again. Only then can we truly move forward. Martin Cartin warns, "This I have learnt: // today a speck // tomorrow a hero // hero or monster // you are consumed!"

peace


Many quotes are taken from "Restorative Justice and the Common Good: Creating a Culture of Forgiveness and Reconciliation." by Tom Cavanagh.
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