“At the top of the pyramid which we call civilization there is still the terrible fact of war. We cannot call ourselves a fully civilized people as long as that possibility exists and is, indeed, taken for granted.” These are the heartfelt words of John Kenneth Galbraith, a man who witnessed firsthand the war and violence of the 20th century.
Professor Galbraith and I are engaged in an ongoing dialogue that has included a frank exchange of views on the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Directly or indirectly, we have all been affected by this horrific crime and its aftermath. One of the victims was a gifted graduate of Soka University whom I knew personally.
However deep our sense of outrage, we must not allow the flames of hatred and anger to drive our world toward further division and destruction. It is crucial to maintain a forward-looking outlook, and work to construct a future of peace and harmonious coexistence.
Concretely, I think there are two positive ways in which we can respond to the challenges of the new era.
The first is to strengthen the effectiveness of international law, centered around the multilateral processes of the United Nations. Over the long term, greater faith in the justice and efficacy of the international legal system will help to contain and defuse the conflicts in which terror breeds. The second element is the effort to change people’s awareness, to help forge the heart-to-heart links that transcend national boundaries, ethnic and cultural differences. This means sustained grassroots efforts for dialogue and peace education.
Regarding the first approach, we need first to acknowledge the reality that so-called hard-power responses to conflicts — military force — produce “solutions” that are at best temporary. Because such responses inevitably involve bloodshed and suffering — including that of innocent civilians — they invariably sow the seeds of future violence. In contrast, a system of international law that is widely accepted as just and impartial will be able to resolve conflicts in a manner that breaks down and frees people from cycles of hatred and retribution.
As one step toward this goal, I have long expressed support for the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to judge the perpetrators of grave crimes against humanity.
Although the ICC began functioning this year, it remains weakened by the limited number of ratifications, particularly among the major powers. Japan played a constructive role in drafting the treaty and should sign and ratify it with all haste. I feel that Japan should then work to build international consensus toward making the rule of law the only acceptable means of resolving conflict.
The work of strengthening the systems of peace must be supported by matching efforts to foster positive changes in people’s thinking. Dialogue and education for peace can help free our hearts from the impulse toward intolerance and the rejection of others. People need to be made conscious of a very simple reality: we have no choice but to share this planet, this small blue sphere floating in the vast reaches of space, with all of our fellow “passengers.”
It is the younger generations who hold the key to creating peace. No one is born hating others. Prejudices and discriminatory attitudes are ingrained during the process of growing to adulthood, as young people are inculcated with a fear and hatred of “the other.” I know this from experience, having spent my youth amid the dark and violent pressures of a society dominated by militarism.
Everyone can be engaged in education for peace. It can be as simple as taking the time to talk with the children and young people in our lives — in our homes and communities — about the dignity of life and the equality of people. We must never underestimate the impact of such seemingly small efforts.
This has been the spirit behind the “Victory Over Violence” program, initiated by the youth membership of the Soka Gakkai International in the United States (SGI-USA). Through meetings and discussion groups, these young people have reached out to their peers with the message that there are nonviolent solutions to life’s inevitable conflicts, with heartening success.
Since 9/11, much has been made of the role religious belief plays as a factor in terrorism. But the real issue is that of exclusionary ideology and fanatic actions cloaking themselves in the language and symbols of religion. If we fail to appreciate this, and start looking askance at the practitioners of a particular faith, we will only deepen mistrust and further aggravate tensions. It goes without saying that any religion that justifies terrorism or war has undermined the spiritual basis for its own existence.
I firmly believe that the mission of religion in the 21st century must be to contribute concretely to the peaceful coexistence of humankind. Religious faith can do this by fostering a truly global consciousness and restoring the bonds between human hearts. But it is only through dialogue that this potential can be realized. In an exchange I shared with Iranian-born peace scholar Majid Tehranian, he expressed this in the starkest terms: “Without dialogue, we will have to walk in the darkness of self-righteousness.”
The time has come to look beyond questions of “friend or foe” and to learn to speak from the common ground of our shared humanity.
It is from this perspective that the members of the SGI globally have offered their support to the drafting and promotion of the Earth Charter, a document that seeks to generate a “shared vision of basic values to provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community.” The Charter’s language draws on the wisdom and virtues, such as a profound reverence for life, that have been fostered by the world’s various cultural and religious traditions.
Buddhism stresses that since war and violence are ultimately products of the human heart, the human heart is also capable of fostering peace and solidarity. Two years have passed since 9/11, and this terrible tragedy has unleashed forces that continue to cast a shadow over our lives. But it is my unshaken belief that the wisdom to transform this tragedy and create a new and better future for humankind is to be found within the human spirit. This confidence will continue to drive my efforts to work for peace.