BY HAL W. FRENCH, University of South Carolina
Presentation at WCRP Conference, “Iraq for All Iraqis”
Held at the United Nations, June 11, 2007
I am very grateful to be part of this conference, which deals with perhaps the most crucial topic of our time- the future of Iraq- and this conference clearly is held under the belief that there can be no peace between the nations without peace between the religions. Let me identify myself by a course that I teach, “Learning Non-violence from Gandhi and Friends,” from which you may choose to classify me as an impractical idealist! But my students helped me to become an activist for peace in Iraq, in October of 2002, when our nation was beginning to set the stage for the invasion of Iraq.
They began to take the material on non-violence seriously- sometimes students do that (!!), and to apply it to Iraq, conducting a teach-in on the impending war. Many of us spoke, students and faculty alike, almost all in opposition to the war. And then the next May, a few weeks after our invasion, George W. Bush was our commencement speaker. And my students and others from the Carolina Peace Resource Center organized an alternative commencement program across the street. With ten minutes notice, they asked me to be their commencement speaker! We gave out copies of the Bill of Rights to the graduates and others there, which guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion. It is those same freedoms that I covet for the nation of Iraq. Again, it was my students who gave me the impetus to become an activist in opposition to the war. Our voices, of course, were not heard. And now that those voices have swelled to a crescendo of opposition to the war’s continuance, they are still not heard by this administration.
In introducing my topic, “A Just Peace Theory Applied to Iraq, I want to cite the title of Ali Allawi’s recent book, The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace.” It is an occupation, as defined by the CPA (the Coalition Provisional Authority) under the leadership of Paul Bremer, immediately after the takeover of Baghdad. We’ve heard enough about attempts to justify war. And while it is highly dubious that the occupation could ever have been justified in terms of classic just war criteria, the question now must be posed, “Is there a Just Peace theory that we could formulate which would guide the people of Iraq into a more hopeful future than is presently visible?” What would be the qualities which might characterize such a theory? Are they only idealistic, or could they be put into practice? Consider the following seven points with me, and follow what someone has called imagineering: let your imagination, your dreams, your visions of peace soar, and then do the task of engineering them down to earth, or as a speaker said this morning, “giving concrete shape to truth.”
First, peace as the first resort, the first, second and last resort. Unlike the last resort criterion for the waging of a just war, peace must be pervasive in our minds. And in terms of a just peace theory and our common usage, it must be pursued as a just and lasting peace. It is not a cease fire, it is not simply the absence of chaos, but it is built on a love ethic, implemented by people who are committed to non-violent solutions, exercising the highest levels of sensitive diplomatic skills, in a determined and undiscouraged way.
Second, the principle of self-determination. The destiny of Iraq is for the Iraqi people to forge. Albert Camus once stated, “Freedom is the concern of the oppressed, and her natural protectors must come from the ranks of the oppressed.” Is there anyone in Iraq who has not experienced oppression in the last 20 years? There well may be those who have exploited and profited, but these would be the only persons who could not now be the leaders of the new Iraq, unless they can be reeducated and rehabilitated. Not persons outside, not persons inside Iraq who have oppressed, but the oppressed themselves, the vast majority of the people of Iraq, must chart the course for Iraq’s future. Ways must be found to hear their voices and to implement their wisdom in a constitutional framework.
Third, the welcoming of outside cooperation and support. This must not impinge on self-determination, but it must be secured. Too many outside powers and persons have presided over the incredible damage done to the fabric of Iraqi society and all of its material culture to escape now the responsibility of being engaged in rebuilding, not again as exploiters but enablers of the people of Iraq to realize their own identity as citizens of a free and sovereign nation. Neighboring Middle Eastern states and Western powers, along with NGOs must be part of this process. For assistance received, Iraq will reciprocate by experiencing her identity as a vital member of the community of nations, with broad concerns for human rights and other issues beyond her borders.
Fourth, inclusiveness, which means fair and equal representation of all segments of society. Of course this will be difficult to implement. Those of you who are Iraqis know this far better than I. But it is an ideal which must be strived for in any just peace theory. What unitive elements could be identified? Is Islam itself, certainly in its essence a religion of peace, capable of helping persons to see themselves first as Muslims, and secondarily by their sectarian divisions? Can it find common cause with other religious groups in the pursuit of peace? Or is the idea of a nation state of Iraq powerful enough to generate loyalty and unitive fidelity? Could this overcome tribal rivalries?
Fifth, Respect for diversity. Inclusion must be accompanied by an acceptance of those distinguishing identities which also will remain important, welcoming the insights that each can bring. Differences will persist; must these become so hardened by hatred, so cemented by bitterness that some may feel that the only way to keep faith with their kindred who have been killed must be to continue the conflict? How do we break the cycle of violence? Again, the unitive elements must dominate.
Sixth, Economic justice. In India, the term is swadeshi, self-reliance defined in economic terms, as the companion to swaraj, which refers to personal and political self-rule, or again, self-determination. The cherished pillar of almsgiving in Islam must be accompanied by the secular ideal of wage-earning. The people of Iraq must experience that their creative and productive energies are valued within the total economy. There must be an equitable program of sharing goods and services and the wealth of the nation.
Seventh, A realization of Al-Amin. This title, given to the Prophet, which means trustworthy, truthful, peaceful, must be the ideal of the people of Iraq. This is the nearly all-encompassing ideal. Truth, in similar meaning for Gandhi, was linked to radical openness and non-violence. No secret deals, no strategies forged by a few with no general accountability, but Al-Amin, by all public officials and citizens alike, truth, trustworthiness, peace. It may become a contagion as we are ourselves committed to this, and to sharing it in our lives.
A just and lasting peace? Is it possible? We may become the visionaries who give shape to these ideals.