Nepal Expert French Scholar
This chapter opens the discourse about the feasibility of Nepal becoming a Zone of Peace. After introductory definitions of peace from diverse cultural sources and scholars, we discuss peace in both the realist and idealist paradigms that underpin the mainstream schools of international relations. We suggest that the declaration of a Zone of Peace would synthesize both approaches in Nepal, transcending the dialectical approach. The complementarity of globalization and village economics would also benefit from such a declaration, in view of channeling capital and technology into remote communities.
Definitions of Peace:
Let us first attempt to define peace through the contribution of artists, epics, philosophers and practitioners.
J. G Melchers: American artist Julius Garibaldi Melchers (186O-1932) painted two murals depicting war and peace for the Library of Congress in the Thomas Jefferson Building, in Washington, D.C.
The War mural depicts soldiers of similar age, marching on a campaign, riding horses or traveling on foot, carrying their wounded and leaving their dead. Holding weapons and flags, they are intent on defeating their opponents and securing victory.
The Peace mural shows a diverse group of people of different ages-peasants, scholars, lovers, priests, a mother and child, a young boy. An ox wears a garland and reverence is made to a higher-divine-entity, as laws are being read by an elderly man. Peace is less an act of willpower and is not driven by conquest or defense. The peaceful people on the second mural are not marching anywhere but assembling to understand and experience who they are and how they are to live together, in acceptance of moral precepts.
The two murals gather people in different ways and express different motives (although we should note that military campaigns of most nations usually receive “God’s blessings” from their leaders).
Tolstoy’s War and Peace:
Among the great works of Russian literature, Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) gave us War and Peace. In this novel portraying the fate of Russian aristocracy under the grand schemes of Napoleon, Tolstoy leads the reader to observe the role of the individual-insignificant or powerful in upheavals of history. We may therewith reflect on the virtues of keeping to conventions or breaking with them. Against a background of alternation between war and peace, Tolstoy tells of the fateful impact of an all-out conquest and its quieter intervals upon societies. This led the writer to the personal conviction that pacifism is a superior choice. Tolstoy became an educational reformer and a fervent pacifist in the later years of his life. Edward Greenwood explains that Tolstoy’s ideas on nonviolent resistance had a profound impact on Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Furthermore, his critique of the western (at the time British- led) view of “progress” as a driver for civilization placed him among the initial thinkers that put peace at the center of international relations in the era of modernity.
The Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita:
As seen earlier in this work, the Mahabharata is one of the great epics from which emerged a combination of mythological history, philosophical principles for human living and mystical teachings expressed in Hindu rituals. The theme of the epic is the rivalry between cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, which leads to the great battle of Kurukshetra. This rivalry is an inner state of jealousy (inner war) that manifests in an outer battle between siblings. The phenomenon is to be observed throughout all ages in all cultures and civilizations (particularly in the elite families). War starts at home, between brothers and sisters, cousins, next of kin or close neighbors. Emperor Constantine had his son and his second wife killed for fear of internal competition. The brothers Remus and Romulus, fathered by the God of war (Mars), fought over the power and privilege of founding Rome. Mythical and factual history on all continents tell of rulers who attracted or caused destructive intrigues and rivalries fueled by fear and envy-thus leaving (or dumping) legacies of unresolved conflicts for the common folk to absorb and redeem.
Yet at the heart of such violent duality in ancient northern India, embedded in the Mahabharata, the reader is enlightened by a particular section of the Bhagavad-Gita: “the dialogue between the incarnate god Krishna (the eighth incarnation of the God Vishnu) and prince Arjuna (of the Pandava family). The dialogue takes place on the field of Kurukshetra before the battle, as Arjuna expresses his unwillingness to engage in a war against friends and relatives. Krishna tells him, however, that his duty as a warrior must be fulfilled, which entails fighting and killing. Yet simultaneously, Krishna explains the nature of the soul, the way to spiritual and worldly liberation, the complementarity of doing good and sacrificing oneself, and the purpose of evil or darkness. The fight is allegorical and refers to fighting one’s own shadow, comparable to Saint Michael slaying the dragon in Christian mythology.
The Bhagavad Gita bears from the immediacy of terrible violence the jewel of spiritual understanding: that light and darkness are within the soul- where the true fighting occurs-and that the act of embracing this original and ultimate battle leads to the experience of peace.
Peace as the Consequence of Individual Awakening:
Dutch Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) wrote: “Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” Spinoza was a precursor of the Age of Enlightenment, opposing Descartes’ mind-body dualism and the rigidities of both Hebrew and Catholic holy texts (on which 17th century Europe and its immediate Jewish environment starkly depended for personal conduct). Spinoza advocated for the separation of state and church, and for intellectual and religious freedom and cross-fertilization. He pointed out that political society was based on power whereas it should be based on contract. According to his ethical philosophy, good and evil are relative concepts: as humans, we perceive and interpret circumstances through limited capacities. The imperfection of our understanding and of our deeds leads to gaps between that which is good and that which is bad for us. Initially, reality is perfect. The human grasp of the infinitely complex totality of life is small and prone to significant misinterpretation, hence bringing detrimental results.
This metaphysical approach is very close to the teachings of Buddhism. Both Spinozism and Buddhism reject the notions of Good and Evil, encouraging human beings to redeem imperfection and attain freedom through the reduction of gaps in social injustices or in one’s personal imbalances. Spinoza’s affirmation that “interacting with things and understanding things cannot be separated” is close at heart if not a precept for today’s “systemic thinking” and “deep ecology.”
Peace is an individual experience that is felt and thought during conscious redemption of limitation, and in the act of melting with a non-dualistic all-embracing reality (equal to the purpose of meditation or prayer).
Philosophers, psychologists, metaphysicians, ecologists and sociologists of most schools agree that this individual experience can be shared, thereby becoming a collective experience. Collective peace as the result of shared conscious benevolence, accordingly, is possible-as an experience.
Peace is Much More than the Absence of War or Conflict:
German metaphysician Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), an influence on both realist and idealist schools of international relations, concludes in his Perpetual Peace (1795) that global peace is inevitable. His essay lays out the requirements for peace, including republican governments, freedom of movement for all citizens, and the formation of a League of Nations. He lived in an era when imperialist powers constantly wrangled for superior status and thus could affirm that: “A treaty of peace makes, it may be, an end to the war of the moment, but not to the conditions of war which at any time may afford a new pretext for opening hostilities; and this we cannot exactly condemn as unjust, because under these conditions everyone is his own judge”.
In this statement we interpret that peace does not equate with the absence of hostilities because these can be re-launched upon any pretext, even after signed agreements. The subjectivity of this condition is also found in the preamble of UNESCO, which states that: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed”.
Kant, a philosopher of the Enlightenment, did not, however, trust in the inherent goodness (or maturity) of mankind. He wrote: “A state of peace among men who live side by side is not the natural state, which is rather to be described as a state of war: that is to say, although there is not perhaps always actual open hostility, yet there is a constant threatening that an outbreak may occur. Thus the state of peace must be established. For the mere cessation of hostilities is no guarantee of continued peaceful relations, and unless this guarantee is given by every individual to his neighbor-which can only be done in a society regulated by law-one man is at liberty to challenge another and treat him as an enemy”.
This is true within the state as it is between states. The rule of law therefore is a guarantee for peace, safeguarding the rights of each citizen against the unfortunate natural state of potential belligerence. This explains why states that succumb to either cross-border wars or internal civil wars need to (re-establish) a strong rule of law as soon as possible, in principle and practice, affirming such commitment via communication media. When grievances abound and fresh wounds have not closed, the likelihood of reverting back to hostilities is high. A strong rule of law is a restraint against violent behavior. Social programs of healing and the reforming of community need to take place in parallel, of course.
Peace by Practitioners:
Stephen Stedman, in his approach to conflict resolution in Africa and his contribution to the Brookings Africa program, reminds us of the fluid parameters around any definition of peace: peace might be the label put on a status quo advocated by actors despite their awareness of unjust sociopolitical situations. The absence of direct violence may mask latent conflicts that would surface as soon as opportunities arose. Feelings of animosity may be so large that a restraint is preferable, even to the eyes of those concerned. Silence may reflect powerlessness, resignation or incapacity, which cannot emanate from nor lead to peace. Positive peace, on the other hand, is defined by Stedman and his colleagues as “the presence of political security and stability in the region, equitable economic relations within and throughout the region, new prospects for development, and the fulfillment of basic human needs, including the need for dignity in human relations”.
Peace is not the absence of conflict. As interests and values unavoidably contend for power and control, peace is maintained through the institutionalization of processes and the education of competences in view of mutual cooperation towards solutions, consensus, and knowledge creation. This applies to interpersonal relationships, to inter-group relations and to internal psychology within each individual person. Peacemaking practitioners working with small or large conflicts with diverse stakeholders are often called mediators. More to follow: With the permission of the author of the book Nepal Zone of Peace published by Bhrikuti Academic Publications, Kathmandu. Ed.