What the world needs now

New Man Magazine, June 2009 (Issue)

There are few people alive today who are as prominent or as integral to American civil rights history as Reverend Jesse Jackson. Last month, he was in KL to deliver a keynote speech on peace and shares with NewMan how a better world can be possible.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson is looking mighty prosperous these days, as his full grey charcoal suit will attest, hut he’s earned every inch of respect that’s measured out to him. He’s worked hard to pave the way for a better lot for minorities in the US, from the rocky road that the civil rights movement walked in the 60s to the relatively smooth path that led Barack Obama to the White House. For his efforts, he garners much popularity and has been included in the Gallup List of the Ten Most Respected Americans for over twenty years.

Fart of his appeal is his ability to invoke more of the Baptist minister in him by disarming his audience with parables and metaphors instead of indulging in political doublespeak. In KL as part of Bridges: Dialogues Towards A Culture Of Peace, a cross-cultural initiative by the International Peace Foundation, Jackson made his podium a pulpit and turned his audience into a willing congregation. In addition to his illuminating oration, NewMan also managed an interview with Jackson on his vision of global understanding.

While Obama was still a senator vying with Hillary Clinton for their party’s nomination for the presidency, Jackson’s support added a lot of strength to Obama’s bid due to his credentials in the political arena and civil rights movement. British MF Harriet Harman put it best when she called him “the chain linking Martin Luther King to Barack Obama”. Jackson first started working for King in 1966 and was selected to be head of a key operation in King’s organisation. But apparently, close aides to King have alleged that he did not fully trust Jackson. Of that, Jackson says, “We have disagreed on tactics or timing, but you work on how to use often- opposite views and search for common ground. So,” Jackson maintains, “we never found a problem we could not resolve through thinking it out. The fact is, there were no disagreements on substance.”

Two years later on April 3, Jackson would bear witness to King’s assassination. 41 years on, he believes that the dream King delivered to 250,000 of his supporters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 has still yet to be realised. “His (dream) was never limited to one dream. The dream in ‘55 was having access to public facilities everywhere. The dream in ‘63 was to end racism. That all Americans get the right to vote. The dream now, in an America where we spend more money on military rather than social justice,” he  believes, “is the dream for less militarization of our budget and more social investment. The dream is elusive, it’s not static.”

After King’s death, Jackson carries on the good work, founding the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition to campaign for the end of discrimination in all forms in the United States. In 1984 and 1988, Jackson offered himself a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. While ultimately unsuccessful, he exceeded the expectations of pundits who saw him as a fringe candidate. Today, all his efforts are vindicated through Barack Obarna, the first black US President.

On the international stage, Jackson has successfully negotiated for the release of hostages held by leaders, like Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein, ho were hostile towards the US. Most recently, he hopes to secure the release of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi who is being held in Iran for allegedly spying for the US.

“I have found that when you negotiate with a leader face to face, you respect that person and you gain a chance of having a breakthrough.” He adds, “To release her is to create a climate to focus on what Iran really has o offer—oil, talent, its strategic location and its position to be a key force in building peace in the region. All of those things of value are now being lost in the debate over ‘shall we or shall we not get the lady’. To use her as a pawn in a bigger crisis is not good for Iran or for her.”

But make no mistake about Jackson’s conviction about global justice. On he International Criminal Court’s call for Sudan’s President al-Bashir’s arrest on counts of crimes against humanity, he believes that “the court ought to demand account for misdemeanours, whether it’s Bashir or if it’s George Bush. We should all live by the international law, human rights, self-determination, economic justice and fairness. Leaders who engage in ctivities illegal and hurtful should face a course of justice.”

He calls upon nations that seek to block al-Bashir’s arrest warrant to abide by the law. “If you do not obey laws of human rights, everybody loses. You cannot embrace roguery or illegal behaviour. You cannot enforce hat you do not honour. To be a part of the family of nations, you must honour one set of rules. You can’t have one set of rules for the rich and powerful and one set for the poor. One of the great challenges today is to enforce and form equal justice under international law.”

Using events close to home, Jackson points out that “when Bush broke international law with a pre-emptive strike, it was wrong. The American people felt deceived because while they were or the war at first, when he chose to ignore UN inspectors, he was wrong. A lot of people were killed in that process. He, and those intimate with that war, must face some form of international justice and accountability, and that should be true or all those who, in the name of the nation-state or in the name of God, engage in these kinds of Iwars in which so many are killed unnecessarily.”

But it takes more than justice to achieve peace. It also takes cooperation and compromise on everybody’s part. “Learn to live in multiethnic ways by creating a system of inclusion. Do not let one group within the culture drive the others out. In Iraq, if you just had one-person, one-vote, the Shiites would control all the politics. But if you had a shared system where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds share power and resources — that’s hat makes a democracy. If you have a system that allows one group to dominate the others, you will never have stability or peace in the country. They should learn to live together sharing power and appreciate what each other has to offer.”

He continues, “Each of us has something to offer as individuals and as groups. The more we have a common language or common purpose; you can integrate into society without assimilating the uniqueness of your culture, or your religion, as the case may be. Jam convince more and more that, though we learn to survive apart, we must now learn to live together and it is in that living that we find to our truest potential.”

On a personal note, Jackson credits his faith for keeping him fighting the good fight. “I’m called to serve and I feel a sense of gratification and reward when I serve the struggle. I find the numerous risks a fulfillment in doing what I have been chosen to do. All of us have some gift we must work to fulfill and maximise to make Heaven happy.” But he admits that while religion has compelled him on the right path, it hasn’t always been used as a motivator for good.

“Sometimes people do use religion for war and conflict, sometimes they use race for war and conflict, and sometimes they use economy. People use all kinds of tools to justify to do evil and mean things.”

“But,” he adds as a final thought, “ the character of our faith is quite appealing and quite ecumenical. Jesus was known for preaching the good news to the poor, healing the broken-hearted and setting the captives free. These universal principles are here to give comfort to all of us and they allows us to coexist not co annihilate. They allows us to share living, plan for our futures not funerals and have hope not despair and cynicism.” NM