Mon, Oct 23, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Active peace brings the promise of development

By Pan Mei-lin 潘美玲

On Oct. 9, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to economist Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh and the Grameen Bank that he founded. Yunus and the bank were recognized for finding a way to help the poor negatively affected by globalization and capitalism. When contrasted with the current climate of fear following North Korea's nuclear test, Yunus' method of promoting peace by tackling poverty becomes an even more meaningful example of positive peace.

We live in a time in which the technology humans have developed has been used to produce unimaginably awful weapons, and in which we are constantly threatened by mass destruction. Not only has violence released the damaging power of war itself and disrupted international order, but it also threatens the very conditions for human existence.

However, we should not seek to promote peace by using violence to deal with violence. Nor should we limit ourselves to relying on diplomacy or deterrence to protect national security.

The key lies in discovering how to advance all of humanity and use "the science of survival" to confront all forms of violence.

"Passive peace" only seeks to achieve the elimination of direct violence and prevent war. The goal of "active peace" goes beyond this by attempting to eliminate the social factors threatening human survival. These include poverty and economic inequality, because weapons are not the only thing that can kill. Violence and poverty are both conditions that can suppress social and economic development, so promoting human rights and economic development can also be tools for creating peace.

However, rapid economic growth does not necessarily improve people's lives. In fact, according to the logic of capitalism, it may cause some people to fall into abject poverty. It can obstruct peace by creating class polarization and a widening gap between rich and poor countries.

Many development plans and international relief efforts are implemented in the name of eliminating poverty, but are actually excuses to promote investment and improve the lives of the rich. These plans may dam rivers and create electricity, build airplanes and trains to take people where they want to go and open up mines for excavation, but there are still many people who are left in dire need.

The natural environment that many people rely on for their livelihood is often destroyed in the name of "development," plunging people who were once able to get by into poverty. For those poor who are truly in need of help, development doesn't create a more equal world, just more severe discrimination and displacement.

The purpose of Yunus' bank is to help the poor by providing them with micro-loans -- small non-profit loans to individual entrepreneurs. It also unites the strengths of the underprivileged to promote common welfare by offering collective financial help.

More importantly, it seeks to establish an economic system that is based at the local level and which gives people diversity and autonomy. It is an idea that relies on all people using their hands and heads and making decisions about how to improve their lives instead of relying on policies dictated on high by bureaucrats.

The example of Grameen Bank shows that poor countries trying to develop don't need to search abroad for a model to emulate. Instead, the form of development can come from the grassroots levels of local society. Changes have to take root at the local level to establish independent and sustainable development, eliminate the social factors threatening human existence and thus improve society as a whole. This is the essence of active peace.

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