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A New Start for Stability in Libya

In Africa, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Libya, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations on February 17, 2021 at 10:21 PM

By René Wadlow

The 74 members of the Libya Political Dialogue Forum meeting in Geneva, Switzerland with the mediation of the United Nations, on February 5, 2021, announced the creation of a new executive authority for all of Libya. This interim unity government would lead the administration until national elections which are to be held on December 24, 2021. This interim executive authority has the mandate to fulfill the October 23, 2020 Ceasefire Agreement which calls for a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of all foreign fighters.

This new interim executive authority by its membership, tries to build a balance among the three geographic divisions of the country. It also tries to build on new faces which have been relatively not directly involved in the troubled situation since the 2011 end of the government of Muammar Qaddafi.

The new interim executive will have a three-person Presidency led by Mohammad Younes Memfi. He was born in 1958. He is an engineer and businessman from Misrata. He was educated in Canada and has not been directly involved in politics before. The other two members of the Presidency are Abdullah Hussein Al-Lafi, more involved in politics but not in the first ranks, and Mossa Al-Koni, an ethnic Tuareg from the south near the frontier with Mali. Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah will serve as Prime Minister under this new Presidency.

Mohammed Younes Memfi

There is still a long road ahead to create meaningful reconciliation among the divisions based on geography, tribal networks, and religious brotherhoods. At Independence in 1951, authority rested with King Sayyid Idris (1890-1983), the leader of an important Islamic Brotherhood who remained more concerned with religious reforms than with the structure of the government. (1)

When the military officers led by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi took power in a coup in September 1969, there was for a short time some discussion as to the forms that the government should take. Colonel Qaddafi wanted to do away with parliamentary government and representative elections in favor or people’s committees, a people’s congress and revolutionary committees – all held together by the ideological assumptions of his Third Universal Theory – a concept that embodied anti-imperialism, Arab unity, Islamic socialism and direct popular democracy. (2)

General Khalifa Haftar

Disagreements on the nature of the State had led to important divisions among the ruling circle, especially in 1975. However, all open discussions on the nature of the State, of the relations between State and society, of the place of tribes and of religious brotherhoods were considered subversive, in fact treason. In practice, but not in theory, decision-making was in the hands of Colonel Qaddafi, his family, friends, and tribal allies. (3)

Since the end of the Qaddafi government, the country has been largely divided into three unstable zones: The West with Tripoli as the main city, with a “Government of National Accord” led by Faiez Sarraj, an East around Benghazi, with the “National Libyan Army” under General Khalifa Haftar, and the south divided among many political, tribal factions.

However, both the West and the East contain different armed tribal groups, Islamic militias and armed groups linked to the exploitation of migrants, trafficking in arms and drugs. As the disorder dragged on, more and more outside States became involved to different degrees and in different ways: Russia, Turkey, Egypt, France, the USA and to some extent the African Union.

To what extent the new interim authority will be able to create public services, limit outside influences and create appropriate forms of government will have to be seen. Libya merits close attention.

Notes
1) For a useful analysis of Libyan governmental structures see J. Davis, Libyan Politics, Tribes and Revolution (London: I. B. Tauris, 1987)
2) See M. M. Ayoub, Islam and the Third Universal Theory: The religious thought of Muammar al Qadhdhafi (London: Kegan Pail, 1987)
3) See René Lemarchand (Ed), The Green and the Black, Qadhafi’s Politics in Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Ethiopia: Storm Clouds Getting Darker

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, Sudan, The Search for Peace on January 24, 2021 at 8:20 PM

By René Wadlow

In an earlier article on the armed conflict in Ethiopia “Storm Clouds Gather Over Ethiopia” I agreed with other observers of the situation that one knows when an armed conflict starts but not when it ends. There is always a real danger that violence spreads to other parts of the country and that neighboring States get involved. Now both dangers have taken form in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is a federal republic structured on the basis of 10 states or provinces. The provinces have the name of the major ethnic group within that province. However, no province is populated exclusively by one ethnic group. Through history and economic development people have moved to areas beyond their original “homeland”. However, people from a “foreign” ethnic group can be made to feel as “second class citizens”, and there may be violence used against them in times of tensions.

A neighborhood in Tigray

Thus, in the far west of Ethiopia, there is a small province called Benishangul-Gumuz, named after two ethnic groups, the Berta and the Gamuz. However, there are three other ethnic groups which also consider the area as their “homeland”. The area has good farmland and is a major producer of vegetables. Thus, Amhara farmers from the larger neighboring Amhara province have progressively settled in Benishangul-Gumuz. Tensions over land use has grown between the Amhara farmers and the dominant Gumuz. At the same time that the federal government forces were moving into the Tigray province, Gumuz militias attacked the Amhara settlers. The federal government sent in troops to restore order, but troops can not deal with the basic issues of ethnic-based tensions and disputes over land ownership which is often collective rather than individual. Thus, the tensions and violence in Tigray and Benishangul-Gumuz provinces may spread to other provinces as well.

In addition to the dangers of violence spreading to other provinces, there is a real danger that neighboring Sudan will get involved. The Ethiopian federal government’s military action within Tigray province has caused an exodus of some 50,000 persons across the frontier into Sudan. A smaller number have crossed the frontier into South Sudan.

Abdallah Hamdok

The Sudanese government in far-away Khartoum has been preoccupied with restructuring itself after the 30 years of governance by Omar al-Bashir came to an end in April 2019. However, the entry of a large number of refugees from Tigray must have pushed some in the Sudanese government to look at maps to see where all this trouble was going on. They saw that part of the trouble was near the Al-Fashaga triangle, a small area but of rich farmland largely farmed by Ethiopian farmers. However, Al-Fashaga is within the territory of Sudan, set by the British-Egyptian condominium in 1902 and 1907.

The Ethiopian settlers in Al-Fashaga had created self-protection militias without a relation to the Ethiopian central army. However, with the the current Ethiopian army near Al-Fashaga, the Sudanese government is rushing tanks and troops to the area. The acting Prime Minister of Sudan, Abdallah Hamdok, has publicly reaffirmed Sudanese ownership of the area. While it is difficult to have accurate reporting from Al-Fashaga, some nongovernmental organizations working with refugees in Sudan near the frontier have warned of possible fighting and increased tensions. There are real possibilities of the storm clouds getting darker.

Note:

An earlier article on the same subject from Prof. René Wadlow: Storm Clouds Gather Over Ethiopia.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Antonio Gramsci: A Cultural Base for Positive Action

In Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Europe, Literature, Social Rights, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace on January 24, 2021 at 7:54 PM

By René Wadlow

Antonio Gramsci (January 22, 1891 – April 24, 1937) was an Italian Socialist and then Communist editor who is best known for his notebooks of reflections that he wrote while in prison. (1) Gramsci grew up on the Italian island of Sardinia and saw the poor conditions of the impoverished peasants there. He studied just before the First World War at the University of Turin at a time when industry, especially the Fiat auto company was starting. Gramsci became concerned with the conditions of the new industrial working class. When the First World War started, he was asked to join a new Socialist newspaper that had started in Turin.

Antonio Gramsci

In 1921, in part due to the Russian Revolution, the Italian Communist Party was born. Some of the Socialists, including Gramsci, joined the new party, and Gramsci became an editor of the Communist newspaper. In 1922, he went to Russia as a delegate of the Italian Communist Party to a convention of Communist Parties from different parts of the world.

Also in 1922, Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party came to power and quickly began a crackdown on the Communists and other opposition movements. In 1926, after a failed attempt on Mussolini’s life, there was a massive crackdown on Communists. Although he had nothing to do with the effort to kill Mussolini, but as a Communist deputy to the national Parliament, Gramsci was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His health, which had never been strong, deteriorated in prison. On April 27, 1937 he died, aged 46.

While in prison, he wrote his ideas in notebooks which were censored by the prison authorities. Then the notebooks were passed on to family members. Gramsci had to be careful about how he expressed his ideas. The notebooks were published only after the end of the Second World War and the defeat of the Fascist government. Thus, Gramsci was never able to discuss or clarify his views. Nevertheless, his prison writings have been widely read and discussed.

Benito Mussolini

The concept most associated with Gramsci is the idea of “hegemony”. Hegemony is constructed through a complex series of struggles. Hegemony cannot be constructed once and for all since the balance of social forces on which it rests is continually evolving. Class structures related to the mode of production is obviously one area of struggle – the core of the Marxist approach. However, what is new in Gramsci is his emphasis on the cultural, ideological, and moral dimensions of the struggle for hegemony.

For Gramsci, hegemony cannot be economic alone. There must be a cultural battle to transform the popular mentality. He asks, “How it happens that in all periods, there co-exist many systems and currents of philosophical thought and how these currents are born, how they are diffused and why in the process of diffusion they fracture along certain lines and in certain directions.”

Gramsci was particularly interested in the French Revolution and its follow up. Why were the revolutionary ideas not permanently in power but rather were replaced by those of Napoleon, only to return later? Gramsci put an emphasis on what is called today “the civil society” – all the groups and forces not directly related to government: government administration, the military, the police.  There can be a control of the government, but such control: can be replaced if the civil society’s values and zeitgeist (world view) are not modified in depth. There is a slow evolution of mentalities from one value system to another. For progress to be permanent, one needs to influence and then control those institutions – education, culture, religion, folklore – that create the popular zeitgeist. He was unable to return to the USSR to see how Stalin developed the idea of hegemony.

The intellectual contribution of Gramsci has continued in the work of Edward Said on how the West developed its ideas about the Middle East. (2) Likewise, his influence is strong in India in what are called “subaltern studies” – what those people left out of official histories think. As someone noted, “I believe firmly that the history of ideas is the key to the history of deeds.”

Notes

(1) Antonio Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks (three volumes) (New York: Columbia University Press); Antonio Gramsci, Prison Letters (London: Pluto Press, 1996)

(2) See Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Vintage, 1994)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Pitirim Sorokin: The Renewal of Humanity

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Democracy, Europe, Literature, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace on January 24, 2021 at 7:26 PM

By René Wadlow

Pitirim Sorokin (1889-1968) whose birth anniversary we mark on January 21, was concerned, especially in the period after the Second World War, with the relation between the values and attitudes of the individual and their impact on the wider society. His key study Society, Culture and Personality: Their Structure and Dynamics (1947) traced the relations between the development of the personality, the wider cultural values in which the personality was formed, and the structures of the society.

Pitirim Sorokin

The two World Wars convinced him that humanity was in a period of transition, that the guideline of earlier times had broken down and had not yet been replaced by a new set of values and motivations. To bring about real renewal, one had to work at the same time on the individual personality, on cultural values as created by art, literature, education, and on the social framework. One had to work on all three at once, not one after the other as some who hope that inner peace will produce outer peace. In his Reconstruction of Humanity (1948), he stressed the fact that “if we want to raise the moral standards of large populations, we must change correspondingly the mind and behavior of the individuals making up these populations, and their social institutions and their cultures.”

Sorokin was born in a rural area in the north of Russia. Both his parents died when he was young. He had to work in handicraft trades in order to go to the University of St. Petersburg where his intelligence was noted, and he received scholarships to carry out his studies in law and in the then new academic discipline of sociology. After obtaining his doctorate, he was asked to create the first Department of Sociology at the University of St. Petersburg. However, the study of the nature of society was a dangerous undertaking, and he was imprisoned three times by the Tsarist regime.

He was among the social reformers that led to the first phase of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He served as private secretary to Aleksandr Kerensky, head of the Provisional Government and Sorokin was the editor of the government newspaper. When Kerensky was overthrown by Lenin, Sorokin became part of a highly vocal anti-Bolshevik faction, leading to his arrest and condemnation to death in 1923. At the last moment, after a number of his cell mates had been executed, Lenin modified the penalty to exile, and Sorokin left the USSR, never to return. His revolutionary activities are well-described in his autobiography A Long Journey (1963).

Aleksandr Kerensky

He went to the United States and taught at the University of Minnesota (1924-1930) where he carried out important empirical studies on social mobility, especially rural to urban migration. These studies were undertaken at a time when sociology was becoming increasingly recognized as a specific discipline. Sorokin was invited to teach at Harvard University where the Department of Social Ethics was transformed into the Department of Sociology with Sorokin as its head. He continued teaching sociology at Harvard until his retirement in 1955 when the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism was created so that he could continue his research and writing.

Of the three pillars that make up society − personality, culture, and social structure − personality may be the easiest to modify. Therefore, he turned his attention to how a loving or altruistic personality could be developed. He noted that in slightly different terms: love, compassion, sympathy, mercy, benevolence, reverence, Eros, Agape and mutual aid − all affirm supreme love as the highest moral value and its imperatives as the universal and perennial moral commandments. He stressed the fact that an ego-transcending altruistic transformation is not possible without a corresponding change in the structure of one’s ego, values and norms of conduct. Such changes have to be brought about by the individual himself, by his own effortful thinking, meditation, volition and self-analysis. He was strongly attracted to yoga which acted on the body, mind, and spirit.

Sorokin believed that love or compassion must be universal if it were to provide a basis for social reconstruction. Partial love, he said, can be worse than indifference. “If unselfish love does not extend over the whole of mankind, if it is confined within one group − a given family, tribe, nation, race, religious denomination, political party, trade union, caste, social class or any part of humanity − in such an in-group altruism tends to generate an out-group antagonism. And the more intense and exclusive the in-group solidarity of its members, the more unavoidable are the clashes between the group and the rest of humanity.

Sorokin was especially interested in the processes by which societies change cultural orientations, particularly the violent societies he knew, the USSR and the USA. As he wrote renewal “demands a complete change of contemporary mentality, a fundamental transformation of our system of values and the profoundest modification of our conduct toward other men, cultural values and the world at large. All this cannot be achieved without the incessant, strenuous active efforts on the part of every individual.”

Notes

For a biography see: B. V. Johnston, Pitirim A. Sorokin: An Intellectual Biography (University Press of Kansas, 1995)

For an overview of his writings see: Frank Cowell, History, Civilization and Culture: An Introduction to the Historical and Social Philosophy of Pitirim A. Sorokin (Boston: Beacon Press, 1952)

For Sorokin’s late work on the role of altruism see: P. A. Sorokin, The Ways and Power of Love (Boston, Beacon Press, 1954) A new reprint was published by Templeton Press in 2002

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

For a World Citizen Approach to Protecting Human Rights Defenders

In Africa, Asia, Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, International Justice, Latin America, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on January 19, 2021 at 6:28 PM

By Bernard J. Henry

What are, if any, the lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 crisis? As far as we, World Citizens, are concerned, the most important one is undoubtedly this: As we have been saying since the early days of our movement, global problems require global solutions.

Beyond the appearance of a mere self-serving statement, this traditional World Citizen slogan finds a new meaning today. Never has it been so visible and proven that national sovereignty can be not only a hurdle to solving global problems, but a full-scale peril to the whole world when abused. While many European nations were quick to react to the virus as a major health crisis right from early 2020, others led by nationalists, namely the USA, the UK and Brazil, adamantly refused to take any action, dismissing the virus as harmless if not non-existent. Just like an individual who is not aware of being sick can pass the disease on others while behaving without precaution, a country that does not act wisely can contribute dramatically to spreading the disease throughout the world. And that is what happened.

No use beating about the bush – that kind of behavior is a violation of human rights, starting with the right to life and the right to health. Even though COVID-19 is first and foremost a medical issue, it also has implications in terms of human rights. There comes a question which has been with us since the beginning of the century: In the absence of a global institution, such as a global police service, in charge of overseeing respect for human rights worldwide, what about the people devoting their lives to performing this duty of public service, these private citizens whom we call Human Rights Defenders (HRDs)? Before COVID-19 ever appeared, many of them were already in danger. While vaccines and medicines are being developed to counter COVID-19, there does not seem to be a cure in sight for the perils HRDs face every day.

Legal, legitimate, but unrecognized

HRDs, people defending human rights, have existed from the early days of human civilization in one form or another. Since 1948 and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), followed by a number of treaties and similar declarations, it has obviously been viewed as more legitimate and legal to promote and protect rights which were now internationally recognized. The UDHR itself has made history by evolving from a non-binding resolution of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to an instrument of customary international law, toward which states feel obligated through, as international law puts it, opinio juris. But in a postwar Westphalian world where only states had international legal personality, the people defending the rights enshrined in the UDHR, in other words HRDs, long remained deprived of formal recognition.

It all changed in 1998, when the UN General Assembly celebrated the half-century of existence of the UDHR by presenting it with a companion text, officially called Resolution 53/144 of December 9, 1998 but better known as the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – in short, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (DHRD).

Like the UDHR, the DHRD was born “soft law”. But the resemblance stops there. In twenty-two years of existence, the DHRD has been nowhere near accepted by states under opinio juris. Accepting international human rights is one thing, but endorsing the creation, if only morally speaking, of an international category of people authorized to go against the state to promote the same rights, well, that continues to be more than the nation-state can live with. Everywhere in the world, HRDs feel the pain of that denial of recognition.

Human rights under attack means defenders in danger

Traditionally, human rights in the Western sense of the word mean freedom of opinion and expression. These rights continue to be curtailed in too many countries, beyond geographical, cultural, religious, or even political differences. Inevitably, that goes for HRDs defending these rights too. The two “least democratic” countries sitting as Permanent Members on the UN Security Council, Russia and China, also stand out as world leaders in political repression.

During the Cold War, the Eastern bloc would put forward economic and social rights as a counterpoint to the said Western notion. Even though human rights were “reunified” over thirty years ago, economic and social rights remain taboo in various parts of the world. In Thailand and Nicaragua, health workers have been punished for demanding better equipment to treat COVID-19 patients. In the Philippines, city residents who pushed for more adequate shelter in times of lockdown were similarly repressed by their government.

Cultural rights, often alongside indigenous rights, can truly be described as disturbing all forms of governments in countries which used to be colonies of Western powers, from Latin America, most recently in Honduras and Paraguay, to Asia with such examples as Malaysia and Indonesia. In such countries, being an HRD trying to advance the rights of indigenous groups all but equates trying to tear the whole nation apart.

Everywhere in the world, such typical 21st-century pressing issues as LGBT rights and, more than ever since the #MeToo scandal, women’s rights may be popular causes, but taking them up almost systematically means trouble, be it in North African countries like Egypt and Tunisia or in the European nations of Poland and Andorra.

Last but not least, even though one might think the wide consensus on the issue opens doors for action, defending environmental rights is proving no easy task. From Madagascar to Belarus, trying to get your government to live up to its responsibilities is bound to create a most unsafe environment for you.

For those who need and manage to flee, being abroad does not even mean being safe anymore. China has been found to be heavily spying on activists from the Uyghur minority living in foreign countries, and last month the AWC had to send an appeal to the authorities of Canada regarding a Pakistani HRD from the Baloch minority group who was found dead in Toronto, after the local police service said the death was not a criminal act but a fellow Baloch HRD and refugee there expressed serious doubts.

When the DHRD should be providing greater relief and comfort for the performance of human rights work, HRDs continue to be denied any character of public service, leading to acute stigmatization, intimidation, and ultimately repression. As many signs that the nation-state is losing its nerves in trying to defend a Westphalian national sovereignty that COVID-19 has now largely proved is out of date.

Shattering national borders – and human rights, too

One form of human rights abuse that has become particularly salient since the late 2000s, further fueled by Brexit in 2016 and the now-ending Trump presidency since 2017, is the systematic persecution of refugees and migrants – and, more preoccupying still, of those nationals in the countries of arrival trying to lend a hand to the newcomers. In France, President Emmanuel Macron was thought to have been spared from the influence of populist parties backed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia; yet several activists have been prosecuted on these sole grounds, such as Martine Landry of Amnesty International France and Cédric Herrou, both from the Nice area near the Italian border. Eventually, both were cleared by the judiciary. In the USA, migrants’ rights activist Scott Warren was similarly prosecuted – and similarly acquitted. But in both countries and others still, the problem remains unsolved.

No wonder this is happening at all. Even those governments least favorable to the brand of xenophobia “exported” by Moscow since the last decade have become unfathomably sensitive to the issue of migration and asylum, as they too feel threatened by the outside world and flaunt their borders as ramparts, shielding them from some barbaric conduct with which they confuse different customs and religions, thus adopting the very same attitude as those populists they claim to be fighting. That leaves citizens trying to help refugees and migrants singled out as traitors and criminals.

The mass arrival of migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East in the summer of 2015 proved that Europe and, for this purpose, the rest of the world were wrong to assume that crises in other, distant parts of the world could never hit home too violently. In this case, the crisis bore a name – ISIS, the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham (the Levant)”. The Iraqi-born terrorist group had conquered a wide swath of land the previous year, seizing territory from both Iraq and Syria along the border, and established on it a “caliphate” that drew scores of individuals from many parts of the world, especially Europe and North Africa. The previous summer had seen its militias persecute the millennia-old Christian minority of Iraq and other religious groups such as the Yezidis. A year before the UN dared called it genocide, the AWC did.

When the Taliban’s “Islamic Emirate” of the late 1990s in Afghanistan had been recognized by three countries, no one recognized the “Islamic State”, let alone the caliphate. Obviously, recognizing the “caliphate” would have been both a violation of international law and an insult to all of ISIS’s victims back home and abroad. Nonetheless, as the French-American scholar Scott Atran and the specialist Website e-ir.info noted, the “ISIS crisis” proved that the traditional notion of the nation-state was now being violently rejected – violently, and ISIS leaders knew full well how to make good use of it, cleverly rendering their barbaric ways appealing to Westerners and North Africans frustrated at the lack of social and political change back in their home countries.

Questioning the nation-state in such an insane, murderous manner can only be diametrically opposed to the mindset of a World Citizen. Stopping borders from serving as ramparts against foreigners irrationally viewed as enemies, bringing the people of the world together regardless of political nationality, none of this can ever be compatible with the creation of yet another nation-state, albeit de facto, to terrorist ends at home and abroad. Even though the massive afflux of migrants and refugees was certainly no phenomenon the best-prepared state in the world could have successfully dealt with overnight, European nations failed at it miserably. In suspecting and rejecting foreigners for fear of terrorism, they only made it easier to commit terrorist attacks on their soil and endanger their own population, including the Muslim population which automatically becomes a scapegoat every time a jihadi terrorist attack is carried out. Nobody’s human rights were well-served and everybody’s human rights ended up as losers.

Globalizing solidarity with HRDs

There you have it. The harder states, European and others, strive to defend their borders as sacred, God-given privileges, the harder human rights and their defenders get hit and everybody loses.

Consequently, returning to the comparison with COVID-19, a true World Citizen perspective toward protecting HRDs must put forward what has been absent throughout the pandemic, in terms of both public health and patient care – globalization. Not the unfair, inhumane economic globalization we have known since the 1990s, for that one too is responsible for what has happened over the past twelve months. A World Citizen can only seek a globalization of solidarity, bearing in mind that, as French President Emmanuel Macron once put it, “the virus does not have a passport” and travels freely through all human beings who accept, or get forced, to become its living vehicles.

The very same principle should apply to human rights and their defenders. The UDHR is by name universal, as are all human rights. Therefore, why wouldn’t the defense of the same rights be universal by nature? If terrorism can be let to shun national borders in its war on the whole world, then why can’t brave, devoted HRDs enjoy the recognition they deserve, in every country, on every continent, and from every type of government? Why in the world would a terrorist get greater attention than a citizen dedicating their life to championing the dignity of all fellow human beings? If this divided world of ours could possibly find some sort of unity in support of health workers fighting COVID-19, then why not around HRDs, too?

World leaders can no longer look away from the issue. Uniting around one global problem means endorsing the principle of global solutions for everything else. If there is to be a different future for the world, a better future, then trusting and respecting HRDs, supporting and helping them, and ultimately joining their ranks are as many keys that will unlock a brand new era of shared true dignity.

Bernard J. Henry is the External Relations Officer of the Association of World Citizens.

Henry Usborne (January 16, 1909 – March 16, 1996) World Citizen Activist

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Democracy, Human Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on January 16, 2021 at 6:42 PM

By René Wadlow

Henry Usborne was a British Member of Parliament (MP) elected in the Labour Party landslide in 1945. He was re-elected in 1950. He was an engineer and Birmingham businessman yet a socialist. Born in India, he always had a broad view of world politics. He was concerned that the United Nations (UN) whose Charter had been signed in June 1945 before the use of the atomic bombs had the same weaknesses as the League of Nations. Soon after his election, he spoke in Parliament for the UN to have the authority to enforce its decisions, an authority which the League of Nations lacked. He spoke out for a code of human rights and for an active world bank.

The early years of the UN were colored by the growing tensions between the USA and the USSR – the start of the Cold War. There were deep disagreements over the future of Germany. Non-official contacts between English and Soviets became more difficult. Proposals for international control of atomic energy were refused or not acted upon within the UN.

Thus Usborne, while still favorable to the efforts of the UN. felt that more popular support for a stronger UN was needed. He was influenced by the experience of the 1934 Peace Ballot which had been organized by the British League of Nations Association. Voters in this non-official vote were asked if they were in support of Britain remaining in the League of Nations. Over 11 million votes were cast with some 10 million in favor of remaining in the League. It is likely that those who wanted out did not bother to vote. Nevertheless, the 1934 Peace Ballot showed strong popular support for the League.

Usborne played a key role in 1946 in the creation by world citizens and world federalists from Western Europe and the USA in the creation in a meeting in Luxembourg of the Movement for a World Federal Government. With these new contacts he envisaged a vote in the USA and much of Western Europe to elect delegates to a Peoples’ World Convention which would write a constitution for a stronger world institution. He proposed that there be one delegate per million population of each State participating. He did not envisage that the USSR and its allies would participate, but he hoped that India would as Jawaharlal Nehru had played a key role in developing support for the United Nations. (1)

In October 1947 he went on a speaking tour of the USA. His ideas were widely understood as they followed somewhat the pattern of the United States (U. S.) Constitutional Convention. The delegates had originally been chosen to develop amendments to the existing Articles of Confederation. They set aside their mandate to draft a totally other basis of union among the states which became the U. S. Constitution. Understanding did not necessarily mean support; yet a fairly large number of organizations were willing to consider the idea.

However, in June 1950, war was started in Korea. Usborne and many others were worried that this was the start of the Third World War. Usborne as many other world citizens turned their activities toward the need for a settlement with the USSR and forms of arms control if there was no possibility for disarmament. The idea of the creation of an alternative world institution stronger than the UN was largely set aside. The focus became on strengthening the UN by finding programs in which the USSR and the USA could participate such as some of the early proposals for UN technical assistance programs. (2)

Usborne, as other world citizens, put an emphasis on developing a sense of world citizenship and a loyalty to all of humanity without spelling out the institutional structures such world citizenship should take. At the end of his second term in Parliament, he left party politics but remained an active world citizen always willing to share his convictions.

Notes

(1) See Manu Bhagavan. The Peacemakers: India and the Quest for One World (New Delhi: HarperCollins India, 2012)

(2) See Stringfellow Barr, Citizens of the World (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1952)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Stringfellow Barr: Joining the Human Race

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Development, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on January 16, 2021 at 3:13 PM

By René Wadlow

Stringfellow Barr: January 15, 1897 – February 3, 1982

Stringfellow Barr, whose birth anniversary we mark on January 15, was a historian, largely of the classic Greek and Roman Empire period and an active world citizen. He served as president of the Foundation for World Government from its start in 1948 to its closing in 1958. He was president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, also home of the United States (U. S.) naval academy which turns out sailors. The aim of St. John’s under Stringfellow Barr was to turn out well-read liberals who would have studied a common set of “Great Book” starting with the Greeks such as Plato. The Great Books approach to learning developed community reading circles across the USA, very popular in the 1950s.

Stringfellow Barr had the good luck or a sense of the right timing to publish a short 36-page booklet Let’s Join the Human Race in 1950. (1) In his January 30, 1949 Inaugural Address on becoming President of the USA, Harry Truman set out four policy ideas which he numbered as Point One to Point Four. Point Four was really an afterthought as some mention of foreign policy was needed for balance. Point Four was “a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas.”

Harry Truman

While the first three points dealing with domestic policy were quickly forgotten, Point Four caught the interest of many Americans as had the earlier Marshall Plan for Europe. For some Americans Point Four as the idea was called had an anti-Russian coloring. U. S. technology to raise the standard of living of poor countries would prevent them “from going communist”. For others, such as Stringfellow Barr, the effort of raising the standard of living of the poor was a good thing in itself, and it should not be the task of the USA alone.

Barr wrote “The people of the world are alone able to take on what is the main economic problem of every single national group – the problem of rebuilding their common world economy. They can hope to do it only by the massive use of public funds. America cannot do it for them … The nearest thing to a suitable agency that already exists is the United Nations. And the United Nations is the nearest thing that exists only because the people of the world lack a common government.”

Barr called for the United Nations (UN) to create a World Development Authority “calling in all neighbors from the Mighty Neighborhood.” He developed the idea in a full-length book in 1952 Citizens of the World (2). He places the emphasis on hunger which at the time was the public face of underdevelopment. Robert Brittain’s Let There Be Bread and Josué de Castro’s The Geography of Hunger were among the most widely read books by people interested in development at the time.

Today we have a broader view of what development requires, however food and rural development remain critical issues. The efforts of the UN system for development are not integrated into a World Development Authority. There are repeated calls for greater coordination and planning within the UN system. The 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Goals are an effort to provide an over-all vision, but common action remains difficult.

As Barr pointed out at the time, most of the proposals to improve the UN have focused their attention on the elimination of war, obviously important in the 1950s when war between the USSR and the USA was a real possibility, highlighted by the 1950-1953 Korean War. However, world citizens have tried to look at the total picture of the social, political, and economic life of all the people of the world. Today the focus of citizens of the world is more on the need for world-focused attitudes and policies rather than on new political structures. Yet the vision of Stringfellow Barr remains important as we highlight his birth anniversary.

Notes

1) Stringfellow Barr, Let’s Join the Human Race (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1950, 36 pp.)

2) Stringfellow Barr, Citizens of the World (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1952, 285 pp.)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875 – September 4, 1965): Reverence for Life

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Social Rights, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on January 14, 2021 at 10:51 PM

By René Wadlow

The human race must be converted to a fresh mental attitude, if it is not to suffer extinction… A new renaissance, much greater than that in which we emerged from the Middle Ages, is absolutely essential. Are we going to draw from the spirit enough strength to create new conditions and turn our faces once again to civilization, or are we going to draw our inspiration from our surroundings and go down with them to ruin? — Albert Schweitzer

January 14 was the anniversary of the birth of Albert Schweitzer and a special day at the hospital that he founded at Lambaréné. Alsatian wine would be served at lunch, and conversations over lunch would last longer than usual before everyone had to return to his tasks. In 1963, when I was working for the Ministry of Education of Gabon and spending time at the Protestant secondary school some 500 yards down river from the hospital, I was invited to lunch for the birthday celebration. As the only non-hospital person there, I was placed next to Dr. Schweitzer, and we continued our discussions both on the events that had taken place along the Ogowe River and his more philosophical concerns.

I was interviewing Gabonese staying at the hospital on what they thought of schools, of schoolteachers, of their hopes for their children. When Schweitzer was not busy writing, I would go sit with him and discuss. Since many of the people who came from Europe or the USA to visit him would always say “Yes, Doctor, I agree”, he had relatively little time for them. But since I would say, “But no, you also have to take this into account…” he was stimulated and we had long talks. On his basic position of reverence for life, I was in agreement, and I have always appreciated the time spent on the river’s edge.

As Norman Cousins has noted,

“the main point about Schweitzer is that he helped make it possible for twentieth-century man to unblock his moral vision. There is a tendency in a relativistic age for man to pursue all sides of a question as an end in itself, finding relief and even refuge in the difficulty of defining good and evil. The result is a clogging of the moral sense, a certain feeling of self-consciousness or even discomfort when questions with ethical content are raised. Schweitzer furnished the nourishing evidence that nothing is more natural in life than a moral response, which exists independently of precise definition, its use leading not to exhaustion but to new energy.”

The moral response for Schweitzer was “reverence for life”. Schweitzer had come to Lambaréné in April 1913, already well known for his theological reflections on the eschatological background of Jesus’ thought as well as his study of Bach. As an Alsatian he was concerned with the lack of mutual understanding, the endless succession of hatred and fear, between France and Germany that led to war a year later.

Since Alsace was part of Germany at the time, Schweitzer was considered an enemy alien in the French colony of Gabon. When war broke out he was first restricted to the missionary station where he had started his hospital and later was deported and interned in France. He returned to Gabon after the First World War, even more convinced of the need to infuse thought with a strong ethical impulse. His reflections in The Decay and Restoration of Civilization trace in a fundamental way the decay. He saw clearly that

“the future of civilization depends on our overcoming the meaningless and hopelessness which characterizes the thoughts and convictions of men today, and reaching a state of fresh hope and fresh determination.”

He was looking for a basic principle that would provide the basis of the needed renewal. That principle arose from a mystical experience. He recounts how he was going down river to Ngomo, a missionary station with a small clinic. In those days, there were steamboats on the Ogowé, and seated on the deck, he had been trying to write all day. After a while, he stopped writing and only watched the equatorial forest as the boat moved slowly on. Then the words “reverence for life” came into his mind, and his reflections had found their core: life must be both affirmed and revered. Ethics, by its very nature, is linked to the affirmation of the good. Schweitzer saw that he was

“life which wants to live, surrounded by life which wants to live. Being will-to-life, I feel the obligation to respect all will-to-life about me as equal to my own. The fundamental idea of good is thus that it consists in preserving life, in favoring it, in wanting to bring it to its highest value, and evil consists in destroying life, doing it injury, hindering its development.”

Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben, — reverence for life — was the key concept for Schweitzer — all life longs for fullness and development as a person does for himself. However, the will to live is not static; there is a inner energy which pushes on to a higher state — a will to self-realization. Basically, this energy can be called spiritual. As Dr. Schweitzer wrote

“One truth stands firm. All that happens in world history rests on something spiritual. If the spiritual is strong, it creates world history. If it is weak, it suffers world history.” The use of Schweitzer’s principle of Reverence for Life can have a profound impact on how humans treat the environment. Reverence for Life rejects the notion that humans can use the environment for its own purposes without any consideration of its consequences for other living things. It accepts the view that there is a reciprocal relationship among living things. Each species is linked to many others.”

Aldo Leopold in his early statement of a deep ecology ethic, A Sand County Almanac, makes the same point:

“All ethics so far evolved rest on a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts…The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soil, water, plants, and animals, or collectively, the land.”

War and the potential of the use of nuclear weapons is the obvious opposite of reverence for life. Thus, in the mid-1950s, when the political focus was on the testing in the atmosphere of nuclear weapons, Schweitzer came out strongly for an abolition of nuclear tests. Some had warned him that such a position could decrease his support among those who admired his medical work in Africa but who wanted to support continued nuclear tests. However, for Schweitzer, an ethic which is not presented publicly is no ethic at all. His statements on the nuclear weapons issue are collected in his Peace or atomic war? (1958). The statements had an impact with many, touched by the ethical appeal when they had not been moved to action by political reasoning. These protests led to the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which bans tests in the atmosphere — an important first step.

Schweitzer was confident that an ethic impulse was in all people and would manifest itself if given the proper opportunity.

“Just as the rivers are much less numerous than underground streams, so the idealism that is visible is minor compared to what men and women carry in their hearts, unreleased or scarcely released. Mankind is waiting and longing for those who can accomplish the task of untying what is knotted and bringing the underground waters to the surface.”

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Khalil Gibran: The Forerunner

In Arts, Being a World Citizen, Literature, Middle East & North Africa, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on January 6, 2021 at 11:06 PM

By René Wadlow

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931), the Lebanese poet whose birth anniversary we mark on January 6, was a person who saw signs in advance of later events or trends. The Forerunner is the title of one of his books, though less known than his major work The Prophet. As he wrote, “Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.”

Khalil Gibran

Lebanon is a country rich in legend and Biblical references. It is the traditional birthplace of the god Tanmuz and his sister Ishtar. Tammuz is a god who represents the yearly cycle of growth, decay and revival of life, who annually dies and rises again from the dead – a forerunner of Jesus. Ishtar is a goddess who creates the link between earth and heaven – the forerunner of Mary, mother rather than sister of Jesus, but who plays the same symbolic role. As Gibran wrote “Mother (woman), our consolation in sorrow, our hope in misery, our strength in weakness. She is the source of love, mercy, sympathy, and forgiveness … I am indebted for all that I call ‘I’ to women, ever since I was an infant. Women opened the wisdom of my eyes and the doors of my spirit. Had it not been for the woman – mother – the woman – sister – and the woman – friend – I would be sleeping among those who seek the tranquility of the world with their snoring.”

To Ishtar, for Gibran, the Great God placed deep within her “discernment to see what cannot be seen … Then the Great God smiled and wept, looked with love boundless and eternal.”

Yet, like Jesus, Gibran was moved by women but never married and was not known to be in a sexual relation with women. Gibran felt that Jesus was his elder brother. The life of the soul, My brother “is surrounded by solitude and isolation. Were it not for this solitude and that isolation, you would not be you, and I would not be me. Were it not for this solitude and isolation, I would imagine that I was speaking when I heard your voice, and when I saw your face, I would imagine myself looking into a mirror.”

For Gibran, Jesus died “that the Kingdom of Heaven might be preached, that man might attain that consciousness of beauty and goodness within himself. He came to make the human heart a temple; the soul an alter, and the mind a priest. And when a storm rises, it is your singing and your praises that I hear.” (1)

Like Jesus, Gibran was at odds with the established conservative institutions, the clergy and the politicians of his day, those concerned to preserve their inherited power and privileges. He sought out of his experience a general critique of society, concentrating on the hypocrisy of its religious institutions, the injustice of its political institutions and the narrow outlook of its ordinary citizens.

However, Gibran saw his role as a poet and not as a prophet. As he wrote “I am a poet am a stranger in this world. I write in verse life’s prose, and in prose life’s verse. Thus, I am a stranger, and will remain a stranger until death snatches me away and carries me to my homeland … Do not despair, for beyond the injustices of this world, beyond matter, beyond the clouds, beyond all things is a power which is all justice, all kindness, all tenderness, all love. Beauty is the stairway to the thrown of a reality that does not wound…Jerusalem proved unable to kill the Nazarene, for he is alive forever; nor could Athens execute Socrates for he is immoral. Nor shall derision prove powerful against those who listen to humanity or those who follow in the footsteps of divinity, for they shall live forever. Forever.”

Notes:

1) See Khalil Gibran. Jesus. The Son of Man (London: Penguin Books, 1993) This is the longest of Gibran’s books. It was first published in 1928. Through the device of imagining what Jesus’ contemporaries who knew him, Gibran portrays Jesus as a multi-faceted being, a mirror of different individuals’ strengths, convictions and weaknesses.

2) The painting that accompanies the article by Khalil Gibran.

3) Also from Rene Wadlow in Ovi magazine:

Khalil Gibran: Spirits Rebellious & Khalil Gibran: The Foundations of Love

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Maurice Béjart: Starting Off the Year with a Dance

In Africa, Arts, Asia, Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Europe, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on January 1, 2021 at 3:09 PM

By René Wadlow

January 1 is the birth anniversary of Maurice Béjart, an innovative master of modern dance. In a world where there is both appreciation and fear of the mixing of cultural traditions, Maurice Béjart was always a champion of blending cultural influences. He was a World Citizen of culture and an inspiration to all who work for a universal culture. His death on November 22, 2007 was a loss, but he serves as a forerunner of what needs to be done so that beauty will overcome the walls of separation. One of the Béjart’s most impressive dance sequences was Jérusalem, cité de la Paix in which he stressed the need for reconciliation and mutual cultural enrichment.

Béjart followed in the spirit of his father, Gaston Berger (1896-1960), philosopher, administrator of university education, and one of the first to start multi-disciplinary studies of the future. Gaston Berger was born in Saint-Louis du Sénégal, with a French mother and a Senegalese father. Senegal, and especially Leopold Sedar Senghor, pointed with pride to Gaston Berger as a “native son” — and the second university after Dakar was built in Saint-Louis and carries the name of Gaston Berger. Berger became a professor of philosophy at the University of Aix-Marseille and was interested in seeking the basic structures of mystical thought, with study on the thought of Henri Bergson and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, both of whom were concerned with the basic energies which drive humanity forward. Berger was also interested in the role of memory as that which holds the group together writing that it is memory which allows us “to be able to hope together, to fear together, to love together, and to work together.”

Gaston Berger

In 1953, Gaston Berger was named director general of higher education in France with the task of renewal of the university system after the Second World War years. Thus, when Maurice-Jean Berger, born in 1927, was to start his own path, the name Berger was already well known in intellectual and administrative circle. Maurice changed his name to Béjart which sounds somewhat similar but is the name of the wife of Molière. Molière remains the symbol of the combination of theater-dance-music.

Maurice Béjart was trained at the Opera de Paris and then with the well-known choreographer Roland Petit. Béjart’s talent was primarily as a choreographer, a creator of new forms blending dance-music-action. He was willing to take well-known music such as the Bolero of Maurice Ravel or The Rite of Spring and The Firebird of Stravinsky and develop new dance forms for them. However, he was also interested in working with composers of experimental music such as Pierre Schaeffer.

Béjart also continued his father’s interest in mystical thought, less to find the basic structures of mystic thought like his father but rather as an inspiration. He developed a particular interest in the Sufi traditions of Persia and Central Asia. The Sufis have often combined thought-music-motion as a way to higher enlightenment. The teaching and movements of G. I. Gurdjieff are largely based on Central Asian Sufi techniques even if Gurdjieff did not stress their Islamic character. Although Gurdjieff died in October 1948, he was known as an inspiration for combining mystical thought, music and motion in the artistic milieu of Béjart. The French composer of modern experimental music, Pierre Schaeffer with whom Béjart worked closely was a follower of Gurdjieff. Schaeffer also worked closely with Pierre Henry for Symphonie pour un homme seul and La Messe pour le Temps Présent for which Béjart programmed the dance. Pierre Henry was interested in the Tibetan school of Buddhism, so much of Béjart’s milieu had spiritual interests turned toward Asia.

Maurice Béjart

It was Béjart’s experience in Persia where he was called by the Shah of Iran to create dances for the Persepolis celebration in 1971 that really opened the door to Sufi thought — a path he continued to follow.

Béjart also followed his father’s interest in education and created dance schools both in Bruxelles and later Lausanne. While there is not a “Béjart style” that others follow closely, he stressed an openness to the cultures of the world and felt that dance could be an enrichment for all social classes. He often attracted large audiences to his dance performances, and people from different milieu were moved by his dances.

Béjart represents a conscious effort to break down walls between artistic forms by combining music, dance, and emotion and the walls between cultures. An inspiration for World Citizens to follow.

Maurice Béjart’s dancers performing Pierre Henry’s Messe pour le Temps présent at the Avignon festival in 1967. © Jean-Louis Boissier

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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