Baha'i News -- Sunday Spectrum - Program Archive Sunday

Sunday Spectrum - Program Archive

-- 2 0 0 2 --


June 2 2002



MR PAUL COLLINS: Slogans like 'Ban the Bomb' and 'No Nukes' easily spring to mind when we think about the peace movement in Australia. But is there more to peace than an end to war? Today on Sunday Spectrum we ask: is complete peace a possibility? Hello. I'm Paul Collins.

Is there more to peace than just the absence of war? While Australia is, to most of us, a relatively peaceful country, largely spared the horrors of war on our own soil, there are countless smaller wars conducted every day - wars of the heart and mind and wars of intolerance and misunderstanding between different cultures, different classes and different ideologies. If we are to find peace, do we first need to address more localised problems by building relationships at every level?

In a moment, I'll be talking to Catholic bishop Patrick Power; United Nations youth representative, Rebecca Jenkin; Helen Durham from the Australian Red Cross; and political scientists Michael McKinley about their perceptions on moving towards a peaceful world. But first, let's have a look at the way we think about peace.

MS DOROTHY McRAE-McMAHON: This for me means not simply an absence of war, but it means creating the sense of community where justice is the strongest element, where we are absolutely vigilant about anything that divides people in terms of racism, prejudice, class systems and all those things that make someone else the enemy.

I joined the peace movement when I was 16. My father had come back from the war, and I said to him as a quite young person, "So, do you hate the Japanese?" And he said, "No I don't. I hate war." He opened up, in fact, all sorts of ideas for me about opposing war and taking stands against violence of all sorts.

NARRATOR: But for some Australians, war played an intrinsic part of our development as a nation, and the peace movement represented an unpatriotic few.

DR PETER STANLEY: Australians are a very pragmatic, commonsense, no-nonsense people. So even in the aftermath of the Great War, a war which cost 60,000 Australian dead, there was very little in the way of explicit argument and advocacy of peace as such. Peace has always been a fringe movement in Australia. And, indeed for most of the Cold War, it was explicitly associated with the communists that Australia was fighting. So peace is, I think, marginal to the thinking of most Australians most of the time.

The experience of war is central to the definition of Australia's national identity. War in Australia is not regarded favourably but, if you like, the effects of it are very significant for us.

NARRATOR: Differences in belief systems often complicate the pursuit of peace. So what is the role of religion in the peace process?

MS DOROTHY McRAE-McMAHON: Religion can be used, of course, demonically to stir up most dreadful feelings as we move towards fundamentalist positions on things. It creates the enemy from our own we-are-right, we-are-holy, they-are-unholy-and-evil sort of position. Religion adds a fervour to war that is not normally there. If we have God on our side and believe that, that is the most dangerous, dangerous situation to create.

On the other hand, many religious people have sustained the hope of peace movements over the years and generations in ways that have been quite hard to do when struggles have been long. Many religious people have shown great courage and honesty in facing the lies and the lack of mercy and compassion and the injustices that are being perpetrated in the name of our side.

NARRATOR: Some faiths, such as the Baha'i, are dedicated to fostering peace as encouraged by their founder, Bah’ullah.

MR MICHAEL CURTOTTI: He emphasised peace and unity. He talked about the oneness of humanity and the oneness of religion and really described these as the core of his teachings.

RELIGIOUS SERMON: The sea of purity draws from waives of rapture, this gift bestowed from his essence we capture.

MR MICHAEL CURTOTTI: The Baha'i faith has been involved in peace initiatives almost since its foundation. In 1986, the Baha'i community worldwide launched a campaign to promote a document called 'The Promise of World Peace', which talks about the barriers to peace and how peace can be achieved.

NARRATOR: So what can the average Australian do to promote peace?

MS DOROTHY McRAE-McMAHON: I think what the average person does is absolutely critical. We tend to leave things to leaders and think they are in charge of the world, but in fact it is us who creates the environment for peace or war, right on the ground where we are.

MR MICHAEL CURTOTTI: Something you can say about Australia is it's a country which is inclined to peace. It likes peace; it likes tolerance. We really have to build the structures for a peaceful world, and those structures are in how we think about our relationship with people around the globe. We really need to think about the oneness of humanity and address perhaps one of the greatest barriers to peace, and that's excessive nationalism. That idea keeps us apart and makes peace difficult to achieve.

MR PAUL COLLINS: Let's just start with this word ‘peace’. We use it all the time, but we never really explain what we mean by it. What do you mean by it, Bishop Patrick Power?

BISHOP PAT POWER: I think I'd see it as a sense of harmony from being in right relations, first of all with one's self, and with the people and the world around us. Helen Durham?

MS HELEN DURHAM: From a Red Cross perspective, it's obviously broader than the absence of war. But about the individual living in societies with tolerance, justice and a sense of oneness as well. It has to be broader than just the absence of war.

MR PAUL COLLINS: Rebecca Jenkin.

MS REBECCA JENKIN: Absolutely. I would echo Helen's comments that really an absence of conflict isn't peace. Then the question is about what is, of course. I think respect for human rights, and even broader than that - sustainable environments and so forth - are integral and part of what peace means.

MR PAUL COLLINS: I'm glad you got that environmental thing in there, because I always give a ‘rah, ‘rah for that. Michael McKinley, how do you define it?

DR MICHAEL McKINLEY: I suppose I'd take it out of one of the things that Augustine wrote: that peace was the tranquillity of order. That begs the question of what sort of order is involved. But if the order is convivial to the development of humanity, then I can live with that type of definition of peace and its practice.

MR PAUL COLLINS: I think we all pretty much agree. I don't think there's a great deal of debate here. I suppose that none of us would argue that complete peace is a possibility. Does anyone want to argue that a total absence of war is possible in human society?

BISHOP PAT POWER: I think we should certainly strive for it. At the basis of all that we've just said now is the recognition of the basic brotherhood and sisterhood of all people. If we recognise that as a first beginning, well it means that we're not tied up to narrow nationalistic, religious or racist definitions that will prevent us from having the true respect for the dignity of all people.

MS HELEN DURHAM: If you go back to the dawn of time, the one element of history is that there's always been conflict at some level. But I think if we don't aim, as was articulated, then, really, what are we doing here today? There has to be an incredibly focused aim for complete peace, understanding that there might be degrees of naivety in there; but you need naivety in your life.

MR PAUL COLLINS: So you’re both basically putting forward an ideal of complete peace as a possibility because if you don't have an ideal, you're going nowhere.

MS HELEN DURHAM: Absolutely. What have you got to aim for?

MR PAUL COLLINS: Well, if there isn't complete peace in human affairs, how do we limit war? The old theory was the just war; that is, that you had to fulfil certain conditions. Does just war theory make any sense to anybody here today?

DR MICHAEL McKINLEY: It does. It makes sense for this reason. Just war is misunderstood. Just war's principles can actually be regarded as the principles for political action, and the principles of political action are quite simple at one level. You undertake political action either to make things better or to stop them getting worse.

What we also have to admit is that the just war grew out of a pacifist tradition. So it was a way in which the church, in about the third or fourth century after Christ, decided it wanted to justify killing some people. That will take us somewhere else later, because it means that we've accepted the legitimacy and even the efficacy and morality of killing people. But just war is useful as a Judaeo Christian guideline and nothing more. Having said that, it's difficult to find something else which in general terms gives us something better.

MR PAUL COLLINS: Can I say you've been very consistent, because you used Augustine's definition of peace, and just war really comes into the western tradition through Augustine.

DR MICHAEL McKINLEY: We've got to be a bit careful, because when I use the term ‘Judaeo Christian’, I don't mean the Christian view that Augustine articulated somehow surpasses the Judaic view. What I'm saying is that there a combination here, and it just happens to comes out of an intellectual tradition which was rich in thinking about peace. It doesn't mean to say it's the only one to do it.

MS HELEN DURHAM: From a Red Cross perspective, we take a different perspective on limitations of armed conflict. We're the guardians and promoters of the laws of war - the Geneva conventions and their additional protocols. It's very difficult to teach the laws of war to the military engaging in a just war theory. So we take a different academic point of view and say, irrespective of the justness or lack thereof of this war, there are certain limitations articulated in international treaties, which must be followed. So it's a little bit of a different take.

MR PAUL COLLINS: Is it possible to have a just war today, these days? Can we fulfil the conditions? One of the conditions is that there has to be some balance in the way in which civilians are treated. I mean, it's very hard to do that when you're using nuclear weapons.

MS REBECCA JENKIN: I think a lot of the debates that have been going on, particularly since Kosovo, about humanitarian intervention interact quite interestingly into the just war debate. There's been a lot of debate about questioning the kind of rationales that people put forward and whether in fact you can get some sort of objective definition of ‘just’. Michael talked about changing things for the better, and what is your definition of ‘better’ and so forth. Then, of course, there's debates about the impact of that on the ground with civilians and so forth. Then you come into what Helen was talking about with proportionality and all sorts of things and obeying Geneva conventions and whether that regulation of war then goes to justify the war, if you like. I think it becomes a very complex and highly political question.

MR PAUL COLLINS: Let's take that point that you've just made - that is, the whole Kosovo thing, which involves the use of force and the use of weapons to defend human rights and to defend vulnerable people. Where do you stand on that, Pat Power?

BISHOP PAT POWER: With regard to Kosovo, I wouldn't be so sure. But certainly with regard to the response with what was happening in Afghanistan and the September 11 response, it seems to me that we too easily went into a war situation there. My hope after all of that was that we would try and ask why these things happened and to try to respond in a way that would create an atmosphere of peace. In particular, my thought was that if we could go back to the jubilee call to cancel or mitigate the debts of some of the Third World countries and, in that way, to show that real concern for those people. In that sense, I think the United States would have come out of it a whole lot better. They wouldn't be the hated nation that they are by many of the Third World countries. To my mind, that more positive approach would have been far more profitable than the one that was engaged in.

MR PAUL COLLINS: One of the things that came up in the background piece, which I was intrigued by, was that Peter Stanley said while the average Australian is not all that enthusiastic about peace movements, they are opposed to war. He kind of suggested that the average Australian was a rather nice person. Yet does the treatment of asylum seekers and foreigners show us something different about Australians? Are Australians as peace-loving as we like to think of ourselves?

DR MICHAEL McKINLEY: We're not as peace-loving as we like to think. I mean, it intrigues me, as someone who lectures, for example, to the staff colleges of the Australian services that, although Australia claims to have been at peace for most of the time since 1945, nearly all of the officers that I speak to have got decorations and medal ribbons of war on their chest.

MR PAUL COLLINS: But some of those are for things like peace-keeping operations, such as East Timor, for instance.

DR MICHAEL McKINLEY: Some of them are for that, definitely. But a lot of them are for things like confrontation - for Vietnam, going back even to Korea. we don't build peace memorials in Australia. We build war memorials. I think we have to be somewhat self-critical. We need to ask ourselves why it is that we can celebrate war and how we celebrate it. I am very moved by Anzac Day. But one thing I cannot stand is the use of the language, where people talk about those who gave their lives. They didn't. They had it wrenched from them in obscene circumstances. We bury them in the most beautiful cemeteries in the world when we can find them. This robs us, actually, of the reality of war, and we are engaged in a massive deceit so long as we do it.

MR PAUL COLLINS: Let's put our discussion on hold to have a look at some new challenges that have come to the peace movement recently.

MS DOROTHY McRAE-McMAHON: When you move towards the Gulf War, all of a sudden we saw an entirely different sort of war. I think the peace movement at that point didn't know what to do with a war which became almost like a media event. It was a very, very carefully contrived media event with overhead projections of bombs and all sorts of things like this. There was a new language, and it was a very fast war. It seemed to be over almost before it began. The peace movement, I think, did not know what to do with it. Really, it has not regrouped since. So I think we're into a whole new day.

We're also into a new day where we use language like ‘terrorism’ and ‘legitimate declared wars’. We don't look at the imbalances of power and where injustice lies. We demonise one sort of violent activity and make a holy war of another. I think that is a false form of ethics, and we need to look at all that very, very carefully as a peace movement.

MR PAUL COLLINS: Well, I think you've got a lot of agreement there, Bishop Patrick Power, from Dorothy McRae-McMahon. It is interesting that the religious people stick together. On the other question of whether in fact everything has changed since the Gulf War, Rebecca do you think that's true?

MS REBECCA JENKIN: I think possibly yes and no. Obviously, yes in the sense that people are bombarded with information. We have live crosses, if you like, to the scene. But I think possibly no, and this relates to the question you asked earlier about Australians' attitude to war. I don't think necessarily that Australians look probably as critically at that information as they could. And that maybe that could have been more understandable, if you like, if you look at the propaganda and so forth that came out of the Second World War.

But now that we have this information age, I think in a way people aren't using that information as well as they could. We've seen that recently on the ‘war on terrorism’, if you like, to use the terminology. There seems to be a willingness to probably swallow, if you like, the main line that we hear.

MR PAUL COLLINS: The propaganda line?

MS REBECCA JENKIN: That’s exactly right.

MS HELEN DURHAM: It appears that politicians and the media, with all due respect...

MR PAUL COLLINS: Feel free to criticise. We love that.

MS HELEN DURHAM: They tend to have a very limited understanding of the terminology. I don't want to get too much into international law with you, but certainly the term ‘war and conflict’ is a very specific term. It's very easily understood by those who are prosecuting those accused of it, etc. But things like ‘terrorism’ are starting to seep into the language. There’s a ‘war on terrorism’. How do you have a war on an ideology that isn't based on the land, which is a traditional view? So I think we're getting a little confused in our messages about actually what war is, which I think then confuses the issues about what peace is.

MR PAUL COLLINS: I'm glad you brought up peace, because we've done exactly what we said in the introduction to this show; that is, we started talking about peace and we ended up talking about war. What you've brought up is the whole question of whether international law is effective in maintaining and upholding peace. What do people think about that? Michael?

DR MICHAEL McKINLEY: It's all we've got, you see. International war works far more often on a daily basis than most people want to concede, because there's a whole raft of things that international law is essential to and is efficacious on. Where it falls down is in the field of conflict. It might be that you think you can disregard it, but if you read, for example, the more recent accounts about Henry Kissinger, whom I believe is a war criminal, and the prima facie case against him, you find that he is now unable to travel to a very large number of countries in Western Europe because there are writs out for his court appearance as a witness, not necessarily as someone who is to be charged. What that means is that slowly, and I hope inexorably, international law is having an affect. I'm not saying it will result in Henry Kissinger's imprisonment, but at least there are moves in the right direction. If you give up international law, what do you achieve by it?

MR PAUL COLLINS: Yes, I guess the Augusto Pinochet case demonstrates that perfectly.

MS HELEN DURHAM: And Milosevic. I think in the last 10 years there has been a dramatic increase. We've got at the moment the International Criminal Court, which is about to enter into force. There are the two ad hoc tribunals. We've got the Miloseviches up there. We've got Pinochet. We've got a real movement in this area, which doesn't revolutionise human behaviour, but it is a clear statement about what the community will accept.

BISHOP PAT POWER: I would still hope though, Paul, that popular and local action could still be very effective. I think East Timor was a wonderful example of that here in Australia, where basically, even though a whole successive lot of governments had really ignored the rights of the East Timorese people, finally the popular resistance to that here in Australia finally convinced governments of where true justice was lying.

MR PAUL COLLINS: Can I get in there. One of the things that really struck me about what Michael said before we went to the extract piece from Dorothy was the way in which we kind of glamourise war and lose its sheer brutality. That is what he was saying. What do you see the church doing as trying to build up structures of peace?

BISHOP PAT POWER: I think it's tremendously important, first of all, that the church educates its own people - I'm talking now about Christianity - to get them to go back to their own basic principles. Hopefully, too, the Muslims will go back to the best of their scriptures and the Jewish people will do the same. It seems to me that at times it's the more extreme elements in all of the religions that in fact inflames a situation rather than helps it. That's where I think all of the dialogues are very important, too.

MR PAUL COLLINS: You mean the inter-religious dialogues?


DR MICHAEL McKINLEY: It doesn't have to be just religious. If you read Sun Tzu, the great Chinese strategist, he makes the point, coming out of no religious background whatsoever, that war is the last thing you want to be engaged in.

BISHOP PAT POWER: I agree with that.

DR MICHAEL McKINLEY: You can do it on prudential grounds. You can do it on the grounds of common humanity and on the grounds of what it will cost you, if you like.

MS HELEN DURHAM: I think it's important not to juxtapose the international legal system and civil society. I mean, there's no doubt that the ad hoc tribunals were, for example, the result of great pressure from the international community on the United Nations to create resolutions. So I think they go hand in hand and can't be forgotten.

MR PAUL COLLINS: Just to toss this in: how do we deal with what Dorothy McRae-McMahon said are the fundamentalists in all of the great religious faiths and the secular fundamentalists, who can be just as dogmatic?

DR MICHAEL McKINLEY: Take those who Christopher Hitchens calls the Islamic fascists, which are the extreme movement of the Wahabi sect. I do not think that they can be brought into a dialogue very easily or at all.

MR PAUL COLLINS: You can get Christo fascists as well as...

DR MICHAEL McKINLEY: Exactly. I'm talking about something more immediate that we're familiar with. The problem then arises that, failing an ability to reach them, you have a limiting case. If they persist in wanting to kill you in large numbers indiscriminately for no good reason, then I think the role of force returns. In fact, the long-term future of the possibility of peace might actually depend on your acting forcefully, regrettably.

MS HELEN DURHAM: Don't you want to look at the root causes - I mean, I think we've focused a lot on war - of that intensity of feeling, of an ideology that becomes your whole life? I think what we haven't talked much about are issues such as poverty, resource allocation, environmental things and the role women play. Women play a strong role in peace-keeping and peace-making. I think we almost need to go backwards and say, ‘We're going to get hard-core people. What are the ways we can stop the development of that before it gets too late?’ As you said, force is almost inevitable.

DR MICHAEL McKINLEY: There comes a time when you cannot explain some things with poverty. They are best explained, so far as we can tell, through a belief in the absolute. Now once you approach a belief in the absolute, there is no point in dialogue, because it is one hand clapping or something silly like that.

MS HELEN DURHAM: What I'm saying is poverty isn't the answer to all of it. War creates poverty, poverty creates war; it's inter-related. But I think there's been a lack of understanding about why these extremities develop. We’ve been reflecting on long-term issues rather than dealing with the issues you're expressing.

BISHOP PAT POWER: Rebecca was talking at the beginning about peace and justice and the whole integrity of creation. I think it’s tremendously important to keep all of that together, because unless there is a recognition of people's just rights - their rights to life, to the basic necessities of life, to a place to live and so on - that's what we're seeing in the Middle East. The conflict arises over those very basic human rights. It's not just a matter of trying to impose them on people but working to create a climate in which they will be respected by everyone.

MS REBECCA JENKIN: I don’t have an answer to the problem you've posed, Michael. But I think probably where we focus solutions on is making sure people aren't necessarily attracted to those ideas, if you like, and that people aren't put in a position where they're attracted and they see that as their only way of addressing particular situations. So, yes, there may be a certain section of the community which one can't convince one way or the other and they have a fervent belief in something, but I think there's also quite a large section of the community who may be attracted to those ideas if they don't see other ways out of a particular situation. That's where respect for human rights, developing a just society and all those questions do come into it.

MR PAUL COLLINS: It's a bit of a cliché question, but where do young people stand on this? You're the representative of the young, so to speak. It seems to me that young people are across the spectrum like middle-aged and older people. Is that...

MS REBECCA JENKIN: Absolutely. I don't think you can say youth have one particular opinion. They're a pretty diverse constituency. But I think that young people have a great interest in issues that could be categorised as peace, but they possibly don't see or define them as peace. There's been a great groundswell of activism, if you like, on refugees, which you brought up earlier. Obviously young people are really involved in environmentalism, and particularly also in addressing the negative consequences of globalisation; they're very politically active about that. So I don't think that young people would necessarily see themselves as part of the peace movement, as someone like Dorothy might have seen herself as. But they are contributing to those broader concepts of peace in the human rights, environment and globalisation spheres.

BISHOP PAT POWER: Paul, at the rallies I've been to for the refugees and asylum seekers and for the Middle East conflict, I'd say young people have been right in the fore of the leadership of these rallies. Their ideals are something that the rest of us need to look at very seriously.

MR PAUL COLLINS: Well, Pat, you got in there and made sure you got the last word, because I was going to briefly ask everybody whether they think peace is achievable. Quickly, is peace achievable in our time? Pat.

BISHOP PAT POWER: I think we should always aim at it.

MS HELEN DURHAM: I agree. We have to try.

MS REBECCA JENKIN: Absolutely. A great aim.


MR PAUL COLLINS: And on that note, we'll have to bring our discussion to a close. Thanks again to the panel. Until next Sunday, I'm Paul Collins. Goodbye for now.

Collins. Goodbye for now.

©Copyright 2002, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Page last updated/revised 020825
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page