'BRIDGE' DIALOGUES: Rethinking the meaning of peace

The Nation, Regional - Thursday, January 08, 2004

What is peace? To many people it is simply the absence of war. But to a number of Nobel laureates and intellectuals who have visited Thailand since last November the term can be viewed in a much more diverse way.

In a series of public speeches entitled 'Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace' they have expanded 'peace' into its widest and deepest possible meaning, by linking the concept to an array of issues from politics, health and civil society, to economics, the role of science and technology, corporate governance and air pollution.

And now more such luminaries from an even wider circle of backgrounds will be coming to further stretch the concept of peace.

From this month until April, visiting laureates will speak of peace by linking it with the roles of art, music, religion, solar energy, laser technology and nitric oxide in the development of new medicine, peace through science and commerce, conflict resolution and humanitarian intervention, corporate social responsibility and moral leadership.

The list of the visiting laureates includes Shirin Ebadi, the latest Nobel Peace laureate from Iran. (See programme box).

Perhaps such a variety of issues that can be linked to peace makes Uwe Morawetz proclaim that he does not dare give a definition of peace even though he is chairman of the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation (IPF), the major organiser of the talks.

'I don't have an answer for [the question] 'what is peace?'' he told The Nation. 'Thinking more about it makes me have more questions. Our world is already full of answers, but we have forgotten how to ask questions. And hopefully this series of events will remind us to ask the right questions.'

The 'Bridges . . .' event was launched last November by a series of public speeches and activities by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who heavily criticised US President George W Bush and his war in Iraq, as well as for curbing of civil liberties in the name of terrorism prevention.

Jackson questioned whether the United States could become a force for peace after the war in Iraq.

And Jackson seems to be a link to the next question about the role of the US to be raised by Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timor's independence fighter and minister of foreign affairs. Horta, who received the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, will speak on 'the Unipolar World - Can the US lead?' later this month.

And, as a critical part of the Iraq war involves the disputed existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, who is a member of the Hans Blix-chaired WMD commission, will give his insights about the controversy in his talk next month.

While the war against terrorism has by and large centred on the Muslim world, Sir Vadiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, the Trinidad-born Nobel laureate for literature, will expand the perspective about the religion and its believers in his talk in April on 'Beyond Belief - Muslim Faith in Non-Arab Countries'.

The questions about religion in peace and war will be further expanded by Dr Karan Singh, a former Maharaja of Kashmir, who will stress the need for interfaith dialogue as a pathway towards peace.

But, as pointed out by the IPF's Morawetz, that peace is more than an absence of war, the upcoming events will touch on other topics as well.

For example, Dame Anita Roddick, the founder of Body Shop, a cosmetics company renowned for its slogan 'Against animal testing', will speak about conflict in developing countries, community trade and corporate social responsibility.

So, how are these topics related to peace? Dr Mark Tamthai, a leading Thai philosopher and peace advocate, says peace begins with the right attitude between man and nature; man and man; and social responsibility.

Visiting Nobel laureates in the field of science have well-grounded ideas about the link between their work and peace and some hope to have a dialogue with Thai scientists on the issue.

When tracing the Thai word for peace, 'santi', Mark found that its root in Pali also means 'justice'. In other words, there is no peace if there is no justice.

Nantiya Tangwisutijit