IF one were asked to pinpoint one reality that the Islamic World today lacks – and is desperately in need of – one would not be widely off the mark in selecting “peace”. How about devoting this column to symbols of peace and to the quest for peace? First, let us allude to the symbol ‘olive branch’. A look back at the recent history of occupied Palestine would show that the destruction of olive groves has been adopted as an instrument of coercion against the hapless Palestinians. For whatever reasons, the wholesale destructions of olive groves in that troubled land became the order of the day. Why vent your frustrations against the olive tree? Call it ironic or symbolic if you will, but an offered olive branch has traditionally been regarded as a peace offering.
Holding out an olive branch to an erstwhile foe is viewed as a peace offering in more than one civilization. Symbolism apart, it hurts one to learn about the wholesale and wanton destruction of countless olive groves in the occupied lands of Palestine. Over the past several years, news reports emanating from around Jerusalem have conveyed the rather distressing picture of extremist Israeli settlers having chopped down thousands of olive trees on Palestinian farmland in the West Bank.
Then there is another symbol of peace – dove on the wing? Doves have not been faring all that well in several regions of the world. It is perhaps the destiny of creatures – whether flora or fauna – that are in any way symbolically linked to peace to be at the receiving end of the most horrid forms of violence. It may perhaps be man’s propensity for wanton violence that is at fault. Humankind’s claims to be the most exalted of creations notwithstanding, man’s actions often belie such lofty pretensions.
Man’s inhumanity to man is the stuff of legends. A species that does not have regard for even its own kind can hardly be expected to be benevolent to other species. Doves are trapped in droves and imprisoned in (gilded) cages. Some lucky few are ceremoniously released on special occasions in what is euphemistically given out as a commemoration of peace, amity and freedom. Would one not be justified in asking how – and why – these gentle creatures came to be encaged in the first place?
Moving on to a wider canvas, it may not be out of place to pen a few words about world peace in general. The hullabaloo raised by proponents of international diplomacy notwithstanding, the one thing that continues to elude humankind is world peace. The more the world pampers the World Bodies – the United Nations and the like (Nobel Peace Prize et al) – the less inclination they exhibit to work for just and lasting peace in a world beset regrettably with pestilences of all genres.
Can a single locus in the whole wide world be pinpointed where the much-vaunted Nobel laureate, the United Nations, has been successful in establishing lasting peace? The world is littered with flashpoints like festering sores, where the United Nations has been content with mere papering over of the cracks. The state of the world today is akin to the sufferings of a patient whose sores, cleverly camouflaged with surgical tape, have been left to fester.
Innocent people continue to die cruel and untimely deaths the world over – deaths that could and should be avoidable. It hardly matters what denomination, religion or ethnic group they belong to: they are all human beings and each human life is sacred. Whether the human being in question becomes a victim to a terrorist’s bomb blast, a State Army’s bullets, or indeed, a state of the art ‘smart bomb’ raining down from the sky, the fact remains that his or her life was invaluable and irreplaceable. It is the height of hypocrisy to camouflage these actions with such inane phrases as “collateral damage” and the like.
The question that presents itself begging for an answer is: can anything be done about this sorry state of affairs? The strategy favored today by the powers that be is based on the philosophy of revenge. An act of terrorism is countered through a comparable act even though it may be camouflaged under the ‘chapeau’ of ‘war on terror’. The US declared ‘war on terror’ is simply not working. Far from eliminating ‘terrorists’ and ‘terrorism’, it has actually added to the sense of insecurity already prevalent in a highly jittery world.
One would venture to throw up the suggestion that we start tackling the issue in a positive rather than negative fashion. The name of the game is to avoid a knee-jerk reaction and, instead, to apply what – for want of a more appropriate expression – may be termed as the ‘healing touch’. All the cracks that have been assiduously papered over and the forgotten by the world community will need to be examined afresh and in some depth. The festering sores will need to be healed – if need be through use of extensive surgery. The roots of terrorism would need to be shriveled.
How about setting up a ‘Council of Elders’ – comprising selected Nobel Laureates – mandated to mull over issues that the world faces; to research the root cause of terrorism and extremism and suggest ways and means to effectively tackle the malaise. What is suggested above is no short-term remedy. The wounds will take time to heal, but a beginning will have been made.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.