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Giving peace a chance


Is war the only way to overcome terrorism? This year's Jamnalal Bajaj award winner Satish Kumar proposes a Commission for Conflict Resolution under the banner of the United Nations that would work to tackle all causes of terrorism.

A timely recognition... Satish Kumar (second from right) at the awards ceremony.

IMAGINE for a moment that the U.S. had decided not to bomb Afghanistan and sought other ways of overcoming terrorism. An international peace commission, with Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Mikhail Gorbachev as members, may have offered many imaginative and long term solutions to terrorism, suggests Satish Kumar, who was recently awarded the Jamnalal Bajaj Award for promoting Gandhian values.

As the bombs continue to fall over Afghanistan and fear of biological terrorism stalks America, it may seem difficult to hold up Gandhian values. But Satish Kumar is among those who are confident that this crisis could lead more people to seek the path of non-violence and more ecologically sustainable modes of living.

Kumar lives in the United Kingdom and is editor of Resurgence magazine, a journal of the global movement for holistic, humane solutions to the many problems that plague the modern world. On September 11, Kumar was in Manhattan and an eyewitness to the destruction of the World Trade Center.

``The biggest symbol of economic power came down like a house of cards and this has exposed the myth of security and power,'' says Kumar. ``We must wake up after this and ask what is real power, what is real wealth and real security.''

For a week after that Kumar was in New York and spent most evenings at Union Square among the people of the city as they struggled with shock, grief and fear. He found that many Americans now realise that their country is not safe in spite of all the nuclear weapons. Kumar also observed as the tragic irony of the situation became clear. America, the world's most powerful and richest country, finds itself insecure because of Afghanistan, one of the weakest and poorest countries.

``No matter what the armed forces do to Afghanistan, the sense of security and power cannot return to America. So the only way to move forward is to find other ways. This means realising that peace is the only real security,'' says Kumar.

Just what is this real security and how can it be accomplished? Much of Kumar's life has gone into finding the answers to this question and won him this year's Bajaj Award for promoting Gandhian values at the international level. Kumar, who is now 65, was born into a Jain family in Sri Dungargarh, Rajasthan. At the age of eight, Kumar was initiated into an order of Jain monks. But as he grew up Kumar found the monks' life too restrictive and was more drawn to the work and ideas of Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave. So he left the monks' life and joined Vinoba on some of his padyatras through rural India. These experiences fostered, in Kumar, a life-long commitment to love and non-violence as the basis of a more just and peaceful world. In 1962 Kumar and another young Gandhian, E. P. Menon, set out on foot for a round-the-world peace pilgrimage. This journey took them through hundreds of villages and scores of capital cities. They took their message of non-violence to everyone they met along the way — from peasants to heads of government. In the U.S. they met Martin Luther King and were deeply moved by his confidence in a revolutionary non-violence. "I am convinced that we will win. We will bring an end to all discrimination and division," King told the two young Indians.

This two year long peace pilgrimage made Kumar an active member of a scattered global fraternity of activists inspired by Gandhi's practice of non-violence and his critique of modern industry. These links took Kumar back to live in England and work with various political campaigns. There he met and married June, herself a peace activist. For some time Kumar ran a school for non-violence in London. Eventually, he took over the editing of Resurgence, a highly respected magazine once described by The Guardian newspaper as the spiritual and artistic flagship of the Green Movement. The contributors to Resurgence have ranged from E. F. Schumacher (of Small is Beautiful fame), Fritjof Capra and Noam Chomsky to Prince Charles.

Much of Kumar's work over the last 25 years has been based on the understanding that the ecological movement is the best vehicle for the values of compassion and non-violence. The big challenge before the global Green Movement now, says Kumar, is to find more converts among the beneficiaries of the prevailing form of development which is destroying the earth's ecological balance.

This challenge can be met by, first, convincing more and more people that a simpler, ecological and non-violent social order will not mean an uncomfortable, inconvenient and hard life. Second, there is need for creating more alternative institutions that actually live out the answers. This would give more people a clear idea of what kind of system would replace the old, wasteful and ecologically destructive system.

Increasingly, people are uncomfortable with the old system but they do not know what to put in its place. This need can be met through a constructive programme to manifest the alternatives says Kumar, who is also Program Director of Schumacher College, in Devon, U.K. This college is one of the alternative institutions that are exploring ways of ensuring that all people on earth have more than bare essentials.

What gives Kumar the confidence that these efforts could find a far more receptive audience in the U.S. after September 11? Since the role of being an invincible superpower has dissolved, says Kumar, many Americans are now looking for a new role. ``There is something bubbling there, in America, and we must encourage that process. Bush (and the bombing of Afghanistan) is a passing phenomenon, a kind of last hurrah of the old ways,'' says Kumar. His confidence is based on the faith that the acute crisis will compel more people to realise that non-violence is the potent and powerful weapon of the future.

However, this process depends largely on enough people seeing the links between America's industrial edifice and the current crisis.

The genesis of this crisis lies in the politics of oil that has driven American policy in the Middle East for over 50 years and led it to support several repressive regimes. The American establishment is now compelled to wean itself away from its dependence on oil and think of meeting its economic and energy needs within its borders, suggests Kumar. This could mean a complete switch to the decentralised, renewable energy technologies whose progress has otherwise been slowed by the political grip of oil companies and other businesses that depend on fossil fuels.

Similarly, adds Kumar, it is time for America to accept that the present form of globalisation is causing jealousy and fear of America because people in the world see that it benefits America more than any other country. The only way to change that is to foster a form of globalisation that puts people before the profits of large corporations. Widespread economic distress must be addressed as the root cause of most hatred and conflict in the world.

Thus, Kumar proposes a Commission for Conflict Resolution under the umbrella of the United Nations. Such a Commission, headed possibly by Mikhail Gorbachev, would work to understand and resolve all the causes of terrorism. But in order to be effective this Commission must be truly impartial and have a moral authority that is respected by all parties.

Likewise, Kumar urges that Osama bin Laden should surrender and go to jail.

These may seem like Utopian, dream-like proposals that are virtually impossible to attain. Yet they beg to be considered and are likely to be heard. The simple reason for this is that the current war against terrorism, the bombing of an already impoverished and bleeding people, solves absolutely none of the problems.

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