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imperialism & war

Global Ethos and Global Threat

"All monocausal explanations are simplistic. Three realities should be taken seriously: a) resentment of Arabs toward the West...b)resentment against the presence of the US in the Persian Gulf and c) resentment against Israel as an American bridgehead in the Arab region... A new consciousness presses in western industrial states in light of the deteriorating political atmosphere since Sharon and Bush assumed office." Translated from the German
Global Ethos and Global Threat

By Hans Kung

[Professor Kung offers 12 theses on the terrorist attacks in the US and the resulting consequences endangering his project for reconciliation of the world religions. The 12 reflections on peace ethics are translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.uni-tuebingen.de/stiftung-weltethos/st_2_xx/s_2-01d.htm.]

1. Solidarity

Our unrestricted sympathy and active solidarity are extended to the victims, their relations and the whole American nation. However this solidarity has limits in military adventures that were unjustified in the case of earlier missile attacks on the Sudan or pointless and uncertain in the case of land operations in Afghanistan. A "war" with naval formations and aircraft squadrons against a terrorist network involves risks of unpredictable expansion and anti-western solidarization. These risks increase with more victims among the civilian population and among their own soldiers.

2. Punitive measures

The great majority of Muslims in Germany and the world are also shocked by the terrorist attacks. The culprits should be tracked down and sentences after they are identified beyond doubt. The use of force in their arrest cannot be excluded. At the same time the US (and Israel) should abandon their opposition to an international criminal court in the Hague.

3. Revenge actions

Pure revenge actions are prohibited by international law. Whoever takes "two eyes" from the adversary or knocks out "several teeth" and assails youths and innocent persons with tanks, helicopters and missiles violates the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" of the Hebrew Bible. Evil should not be repaid with evil according to the Christian prohibition of vengeance. All military means are justified for punishing a nation where assassins spent their time ("humanitarian collateral damage"). Happily people in Washington have abandoned the strategy of "one great strike" (against Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria) in favor of a diplomatic anti-terror alliance. Revenge, "revanche", answering injustice with greater injustice, has brought infinite misery upon people in European history and in other parts of the world. Arbitrary bombardments accomplish nothing and only spur hatred. Terror can only be answered with the means of the constitutional state, not with terror.

4. Infinite Justice

"Infinite justice" like "infinite mercy" is an attribute of God, not a human possibility. "Fiat justitia, pareat mundus" would be murderous as a principle of world politics. The old maxim "Summum jus summa iniuria" (supreme right supreme injustice") warns against absolutizing rights which can lead to murder and manslaughter, injustice and inhumanity. What is involved is not an apocalyptic battle between good ("we") and evil ("they"). Happily the US government has now replaced "Infinite Justice" with "Enduring Freedom".

5. Clash of Civilizations

Samuel Huntington's explanatory model of "clash of cultures" only justifies prejudices. The attacks of Islamic terrorists did not focus on symbolic Christian sites but symbolic sites of the American empire, the economic and military nerve center of the US. A collision between "Islam" and "the West" did not occur but rather the murderous attacks of a small but intelligent, intrepid and very dangerous group of Muslims who are religiously motivated and pursue political goals.

6. Causes

All monocausal explanations are simplistic. Three realities should be taken seriously:
resentment of Arabs toward the West. The wounds of European colonialism and imperialism are hardly healed. For more than a century the whole Islamic world from Morocco to Indonesia suffered under the military, economic and political rule of England, France, Russia and the Netherlands;

resentment against the presence of the US in the Persian Gulf. The attack on the Islamic people of Iraq and the massive presence of American troops on "holy Arab soil" near Mecca and Medina led fanatics like bin Laden, originally America's armed ally, to confrontation against America. Supporting undemocratic regimes as in Kuwait after the Gulf war strengthened anti-Americanism. The permanent presence of ten thousand American soldiers in the Gulf region since the Gulf war is understood by many Muslims as a humiliation and demonstration of American hegemony;

resentment against Israel as an American bridgehead in the Arab region. For fifty years, US partisan "mediation policy" for Israel has made the Palestinians doubt in the honest brokering of the United States for peace. The Palestinians' situation constantly worsened. "For 52 years, the US has not refused any wish from Israel", Schimon Peres declared. The Middle East conflict is not a terrorist problem but a terrorist conflict. Terrorist attacks inside and outside the region should be expected again and again if a peaceful neighborhood is not finally achieved after 50 years. Peace requires yielding on both sides, above all on the side of the stronger which is Israel today, the strongest military power in the Middle East with US support.

7. Is Terrorist Islamic?

The terrorist attacks on the US were immediately condemned by the overwhelming majority of Muslims as un-Islamic. Individual or state terrorism is generally regarded as a perverting of Islam. Answering or resisting evil with good is demanded in the Koran (Sure 13,22). People should be admonished with wisdom "to argue in the best way with adversaries" (16,125). This means in a peaceful way, not with force. The principle "no coercion in religion" (2,256) cited again and again by Muslims is a central Koran declaration.

8. Is "Djhad" in the Koran?

Like the Hebrew Bible, the Koran also contains calls to struggle and war. That participation in war is made a duty in the Koran and in the legal texts can be explained from the early history of Muslim community. "Djhad" doesn't mean "holy war" but "striving" in the moral sense, "striving on God's way". Moderate Muslims understand the word this way today. However the fact that "Djhad" is also understood in the original sources as a militant conflict may not be minimized. These statements can be easily misused nowadays by political fanatics. Therefore the question of Koran interpretation ("Koran hermeneutic") is raised here just as we raise the difficult questions of biblical hermeneutic as Jews and Christians. Islam must honestly face the conflict with the modern age!

9. New world consciousness

A new consciousness also presses in the western industrial states in light of the deteriorating political atmosphere since Prime Minister Sharon and US president Bush assumed office. De-escalation is imperative, not intensifying the spiral of violence; joint responsibility for solutions, not habituation to conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians; honest brokering instead of western partiality, new trust on all planes instead of confrontation; therapy for the social and political roots of terror, not combating symptoms. If billions could now be suddenly coughed up for military and police goals, funds should be made available for improving the social situation of the masses, the losers in globalization who often seek refuge in fundamentalist groups.

10. World Ethos

The urgency of the world ethos project first appeared to many through the tragedy in the US. Peace among the nations requires peace among the religions. Peace among the religions assumes dialogue between the religions. When this dialogue doesn't occur or is broken off, the alternative is violence. Without speaking to one another, there will be shooting at one another. The danger of instrumentalizing religion for political goals also exists in Judaism and Christianity, not only in Islam. A highly explosive mixture of religion and politics arises. Fanaticized religion becomes a danger for world peace. After the dreadful dust kicked up in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks settles a little, a new intensified dialogue must begin. Interest in the inter-religious dialogue rises everywhere even in the circles of reserved persons.

10. Muslims for a world ethos

The 1993 declaration for a world ethos of the parliament of world religions in Chicago was signed by Muslim representatives. This project has also had a very positive echo among Muslims in Germany. In the international area, leading Muslims like Prince Hassan of Jordan have spoken for community in ethical standards and against terrorism. The Iranian president Khatami already set the "dialogue of civilizations" on the agenda of the UN at the 1998 General Assembly in antithesis to the "clash of civilizations". With ex-president of Germany Richard von Weizsacker, I am part of a twenty-person "Group of Eminent Persons" who should work out a report about a new paradigm of international relations by November 2001 for Secretary-General Kofi Annan. This report will be presented on November 8/9, 2001 to the general-secretary and the UN General Assembly who will then discuss the dialogue of civilizations and pass a resolution. The ideas of the project world ethos will have reached the UN plane.

11. A new paradigm of international relations

Instead of a modern policy of national interests, power and prestige, we need a policy of regional reconciliation, communication and approach. What has proven possible in the framework of the EU (European Union) and OECD (Organization of European Cooperation and Defense) after two world wars must also be possible after so many wars in the Middle East and other conflict areas of this earth: cooperation, compromise and integration instead of past confrontation, aggression and revenge.

Politics in the new paradigm has obviously not become easier but remains the non-violent "art of the possible". The new paradigm cannot be founded on a "post-modern" arbitrary pluralism. Rather a social consensus on certain basic values, basic rights and basic duties is presupposed. This elementary world ethos deserves the support of all social groups, believers and non-believers, and by members of the different religions, philosophies and ideologies.

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