Peace In Perspective Chapter 4

Peace in Perspective


Chapter Four

Whither the Search for Peace?

Modern research and education on peace emerged in response to the nuclear threat, war, militarism and unpeacefulness, and their negative implications. Such studiesanalyse problems and issues that relate to peace. They also endeavour to understand the challenges and the opportunities for peace in the complex post Cold-War era; with how to fashion and forge a harmonious new world order; with how to make sworn enemies talk to one another and if possible to discover common ground for negotiation and agreement between them; with how to make peace accords work. Peace researchers and educators recognise that for all this, as well as for the sake of sustainable, yet humane development, new insights and skills are required.

Challenges and anomalies

In keeping with traditions in which most academics are intellectually rooted, and which urge that the enquirer be detached from the object of study, there is the tendency among peace researchers and educators to externalise peace. There is little exploration of the relationship between exterior and interior peace, oracknowledgement that peace ‘out there’ and peace ‘in here’ are two sides of the same coin. Peace and problems of unpeacefulness, it is thought, are to be examined as through a lens. There seems to be little declared awareness that the enquirer should look at the personal or collective self through a mirror as well, and torecognise the extent to which self contributes to these problems. Change, that seems so necessary for the sake of peace, is thus for the other, and not, even more importantly and immediately, for oneself.

Because peace studies are undertaken mainly in secular institutions by persons educated in the secular sciences, there is widespread subscription to the notion that peace itself is to be interpreted in secular terms. Many engaged in peace studies are wittingly or unwittingly party to the popular academic supposition that because metaphysics, theology and religion afford insights that are less amenable to proof in terms of the revered methods of the sciences and social sciences, they are perhaps removed from realpolitik, practicality and even credibility. In consequence, inadequate heed is paid to what these have to say on peace in the academic peace literature. Religious and theological libraries remain an inadequately tapped resource, and as a result a vast and valuable body of literature and thought on the subject is left largely untouched. Such an attitude is inconsistent with the holistic principle upheld in peace studies, which emphasises the need for trying to see things in their totality, rather than in segments. It is an ideal which abhors fences and fragmentation. Peace searchers find themselves in the anomalous position of espousing and advocating ideas and values that are intrinsically spiritual, religious and ethical, while maintaining what they regard as a healthy distance from religion as such.

However, since the 1990s there has been more reference to and recognition of the importance of spirituality in the quest for peace, and in the commendation of spiritual values as such. But all too often, these are seen more as aids to empowerment and the attainment of objectives, rather than as themselves worthy of fuller investigation, and adoption in relation to peace or truth. A temporal and therefore a limited view of the human continues to be taken. Even where there is reference to the human spirit, this is considered mainly as that which enables the dreaming of dreams and a reaching for the (un)reachable star, but alas, something little more than a figure of speech. Moreover, the view that silently proclaims that ‘this world is all you have and this world is all you will get’ leads to an incomplete understanding of peace and its processes.

Within a predominantly secular framework, where the human is regarded as a purely transient phenomenon, there is no real basis, optimistic enthusiasm aside, for hoping or working for peace on earth. There is no reason why ‘Murphy’s Law’ should not operate instead, and that everything that could possibly go wrong would go wrong, as many pessimists, who regard themselves as realists, declare. As for empowerment, it is dependent on the generation of psychological ‘steam’. Unseen realities and the evidence of the spirit, and even reason itself, tend to be shrugged aside. The power of grace and of prayer are disregarded or disdained. Their very mention embarrasses.

Western bias

Peace research has been dominated by western academics and therefore has been subjected to western interpretations of peace. Because the western ethos is both pragmatic and utilitarian, peace is treated more as a goal rather than as a process (although this attitude is now changing), which the appropriate effort and mix of strategies will finally help realise. What seems to matter is to show how to attain that objective by non-violent means.

Seen as a field of inquiry in its own right, Peace Studies is a well-intentioned enterprise, engaged in largely by western academics and fellow travellers with all their cultural baggage: stimulated by great good-will, but also tinged with arrogance and prejudice, and constrained by the taboos of western academia. Because most of the international publications that find their way into libraries across the world emanate from western sources, it is the west that is widely seen as the fount to be turned to for understanding of and education on peace. Although violence is decried, in its confidence that it has the answers, Peace Studies may be guilty, albeit unwittingly, of some of the very cultural violence and academic imperialism that it deplores as compounding problems of unpeacefulness on earth.

What Peace Studies attempts is of itself commendable, it is no more than quasi-radical. There is recourse to value judgments, indeed to moral judgment and evaluation. This is something intrinsic to the task of identifying paths to peace and the nature of peace itself. Yet, to many who would speak and teach on peace, to admit that they introduce moral considerations into the study of peace makes them feel awkward, because to enter into the realm of morals is to enter the realm of religion. Outwardly, peace search remains staunchly secular, and religion is allowed to contribute to the debate in so far as what it has to offer conforms to or corroborates secular thinking on the subject.

Deepening Vision: Third World Influences

Two historical developments in the third world provided Peace Studies with reason for questioning the adequacy of its predominantly secular thrust. One of these developments hinges on Gandhian non-violence, which students of peace extol. The other hinges on liberation theology, the thrust for freedom from their thraldom, made for and by the oppressed. Both are inspired by religion.

: the Gandhian approach

Non-violence is widely regarded as the more constructive and civilised way of dealing with a range of problems where there are conflicting interests and positions. However, there are differing interpretations of non-violence. On the one hand non-violence may be employed as a defence technique or as a method of confronting an oppressor, or in order to obtain compliance with one’s will. It could range from suasion to change the other’s viewpoint, to indirect coercion, which, while falling short of recourse to physical injury or the threat of injury, is intended to force the other into submission. Most such non-violence is goal-driven. Many resort to it because they prefer non-violence to violence. Others do so because they fear that should they have recourse to violence it might backfire on them.

The Weakness of Violence

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is

A descending spiral,

Begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.

Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.

Through violence you may murder the liar,

But you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.

Through violence you murder the hater,

But you do not murder hate.

In fact, violence merely increases hate …

Returning violence for violence, multiplies violence,

Adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

(Martin Luther King)

On the other hand, there is the non-violence such as that taught and adopted by Mahatma Gandhi in his confrontation of oppression, discrimination, state violence and entrenched injustice. Gandhian non-violence or satyagraha is highly principled, and as Gandhi declared, is not for the weak, but for the brave and the strong. This is because the aim is to correct the underlying problems, not to defeat or humiliate an opponent. Not only is the infliction of physical violence abhorred, but even more so is violence of the spirit, which outward non-violence often masks.

Gandhian non-violence is to be practised with rather than against an opponent, in the hope of achieving not just a particular goal, but also higher truth, mutual growth, conversion and reconciliation for and between all parties to the encounter. Dialogue with and respect for the adversary, non-retaliation in the face of violence, and willingness to suffer in preference to inflicting injury on one’s opponent are essential to this philosophy.

This other non-violence is humble, courageous and merciful. It is seen not in strategic terms, not as a raincoat to be worn only when necessary, but as a way of life to bepractised consistently, even unilaterally. Its essence is in the recognition of the inviolable dignity of the other, always cognisant of the divine in the other, however hidden and suppressed that may be; of the other as a child of God, capable of changing to someone better. The concomitant of such a perspective of non-violence and of the human is the willingness to risk suffering and apparent failure in being faithful to the quest for truth, justice and reconciliation; of placing means before ends.

The success of Mahatma Gandhi’s methods impressed the world at large. It also had an impact on those in search of effective, non-violent political techniques as alternatives to ones based on the assumption that in force lies the ultimate source of power. However, the western appreciation of and approach to non-violence differed in one fundamental respect from the Mahatma’s. To the Mahatma, non-violence was not only principled, but rooted in belief in the enabling grace and sustaining power of God. It was based on lessons learned largely, as he declared, from religion: as from the principle of ‘ahimsa’ which decried the taking of life and proclaimed respect for it, a principle enshrined in Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Very specially, he drew inspiration from Jesus Christ’s life and his ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Whereas to Mahatma Gandhi peace was primarily a process inseparable from its underlying spirituality and faith in God, many in the west who borrow Gandhian techniques of non-violence, divest them of these essentials, regarding the methods as alternatives to violence, for securing particular goals and objectives. Some, who may not have faith in God, accept that non-violence is humanising and worthy of adoption as a way of life.

: Liberation theology

The other development, which is also closely associated with the third world and based in religion, and which has influenced many engaged in the quest for and the study of peace is liberation theology. This is a theology which emerged when the poor and the marginalised of the world began to consider their predicament and to discover purpose and empowerment through reflecting on their scriptures, through developing theologies of hope, and through prayer and action. It was articulated as such in Latin America. Its central theses on overcoming dominations were presented by the Latin American Catholic Bishops at Medellin in Colombia in 1968, during the pontificate of Pope Paul VI. At Medellin, the two-fold oppression of the downtrodden was highlighted: oppression by dominant groups and privileged sectors within countries, and from without by neocolonialism, and by the concomitants of the international imperialism of money. What distinguishes liberation theology from others is that it is a theology of the periphery for the periphery, a grass-roots theology, with very practical applications. Liberation theology soon found contextual expression not only in Latin America, but also in other parts of the world, as in Africa and Asia, and the peripheries of the world.

Liberation theology had its roots in the traditions of religions and churches, which put the needs of the poor and the oppressed before the selfish interests and practices of the rich and the powerful. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition such stances go back to the gospel of Jesus, the epistles of apostles such as James, and earlier, to the prophets of the Old Testament, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos. Liberation theology was foreshadowed, in early modern times, in the confrontation of the greed and cruelty of the conquistadors and rapacious imperialism, by those friars, priests and religious who refused to condone the oppression of and cruelty to the native peoples whose lands had been conquered and pillaged by their compatriots.

In the present century however, much of what duly flowered into liberation theologyas we know it began in Europe, in the bleak industrial regions of the Low Countries and northern France. Here, people such as Canon Joseph Cardijn (later CardinalCardijn) saw in the poverty, exploitation and spiritual disintegration of factory workers, of people who were ‘periphery’, the need for liberation from such conditions. His work among them through the movement known as the J.O.C. (Jeunesse OuvrierChretien: the Young Christian Workers or the Y.C.W.), led to the formation of cells of workers, which met regularly to examine their situation; to identify their needs in the face of harsh and unfair working conditions; to evaluate and to judge these in the light of the gospels; to be inspired and empowered by them; and then to act within their particular milieux in practical ways consistent with their faith, in order to achieve the transformations deemed necessary. The JOC/YCW, as well as its methods and ideas, spread in the late 1940s and the 1950s to Latin America and Asia. It was the case of workers theologising for self-uplift and social justice.

In pre-World War II Brittany, the Dominican priest, Louis-Joseph Lebret, achieved something similar among impoverished fishermen. He had concluded that the misery and exploitation that he witnessed around him were not ephemeral or accidental. There were deep, structural causes which had to be identified, confronted and overcome. In this he anticipated the notion of structural violence described by JohanGaltung decades later. By 1939, Lebret had personally conducted over four hundred surveys of social and economic conditions in numerous fishing ports from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. Working in close collaboration with fishermen, he was largely responsible for creating a network of unions and co-operatives whose object was to restructure Europe’s fishing economy. Mutual education and self-empowerment based on critical reflection on humane values were fundamental to his method of furthering liberation from oppression.

Modern and Liberation Spiritualities


‘Western’ ethos of the powerful and privileged. Individual oriented. Bible-illiterate. Conscience-lulling

Status quo supportive Emphasis on theory


Third World ethos of the weak and underprivileged .Community oriented. Bible-attuned

Conscience-raising . Quest for authentic, faith-based social values

Emphasis on praxis

[* The term modern is applied to societies, or sections of societies, with a strong commercial, materialistic, scientific, technological, pragmatic, achievement-oriented ethic.]


Liberation theology endeavours to sensitise consciences, and to effect group self-education, co-operation, to impart a sense of confidence and dignity, and to develop basic Christian communities, with a view to addressing without fear or let the causes of privation and injustice. Although it was formally enunciated in countries which were predominantly Roman Catholic, it was paralleled in others which were neither Catholic nor Christian. For example, many villagers in India have been implicitly committed to aGandhian theology of liberation. In Sri Lanka there is the Sarvodaya ShramadanaMovement, a non-theistic liberation ‘theology’ whose inspiration was initiallyGandhian, but which is based on Buddhist philosophical principles. In the course of time, liberation theology became concerned with the liberation of all, not just the poor and the socially or politically oppressed. For it recognised, as Tissa Balasuriya did in 1989, that the powerful and the affluent and the oppressors are themselves in need of liberation from the chains that bind and dehumanise them, and of which they are oblivious.

In this area too, peace research, which only recently has begun to look at theologies of liberation, is more concerned with the praxis of liberation theology and its efficacy as a lever and power-tool against oppression, and also with its ability to inspire the downtrodden to assume responsibility for themselves, rather than with the religious vision and faith that motivate and sustain them. Both these examples, one of non-violence and the other of applied theology, show that two important aspects of the peace process are fundamentally religious ones; that religion contributes in very real ways to peace and is not to be ignored.


What has to be asked is whether secular prescriptions could yield peace. For, even if war is abolished, and the environment protected, if economic development becomes sustainable, and if equity of access to resources and distributive justice of material goods and services are assured, would all that would satisfy the human heart and spell peace? Or would the quest have to be extended to include another plane? This is not only a question worth asking, but one that demands an answer.