Wednesday 4 October 2000

No easy peace

Ending hostility is difficult but still worth the effort


Fifty-five years ago, the Second World War was winding down. People looked forward to peace.

But peace has proven to be elusive, and for many peoples of the world, non-existent. It is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve peace among factions who do not want peace, who do not want to be reconciled.

As hopeless as it may seem, the effort to achieve peace should not be abandoned.

At the Ghandi Society of Calgary dinner Sunday, Senator Lois Wilson delivered a lecture entitled "No easy peace." She knows whereof she speaks -- the former moderator of the United Church has often represented Canada in peace initiatives.

Wilson painted a bleak picture:

35 civil wars raging throughout the world, millions dying annually, millions more starving, homeless or in slavery.

One of her more recent missions on behalf of Canada took her to a divided Sudan where, she said, neither side wants resolution, despite the peace postures adopted by the warring factions.

And therein lies the difficulty of so many conflicts. In a dispute over territory or resources, deals can be made, compromises can be reached. But where the conflict stems from ethnic, racial and ideological divisions, hate rules and reason retreats.

In the Balkans, Christians and Muslims have hated each other for generations. They justify their atrocities against each other through distorted codes of honour. Nothing will convince the Christian extremists to accept a Muslim as an equal, and nothing will persuade a fanatic Muslim to regard a Christian as anything but the enemy.

The same extreme positions hobble the Middle East, where this week peace talks lay in tatters after five days of riots between Palestinians and Israeli troops left almost

50 dead and 1,000 injured. In Africa, many of today's hostilities have their roots in centuries-old tribal hatreds. The problem was exacerbated when colonial powers formed countries without regard to ethnic territories, sparking conflicts that show little sign of abating.

More colonialism will not solve the problems. Initiatives from abroad cannot erase ingrained hatreds. The solutions for those areas must ultimately be homegrown.

But that doesn't mean the world should stop trying. Twenty years ago, who could have predicted the collapse of communism? Who could have foreseen the dismantling of the Berlin Wall which stood for a generation as a symbol of oppression? Its fragments now stand as monuments to democracy.

Wilson pointed out that Canada's stance in peace initiatives is one of constructive engagement, rather than confrontation and isolation.

That does not mean Canada must get into bed with unsavoury governments. But it does mean keeping doors open and measuring progress realistically in inches. It means making every effort to encourage dialogue over war.

"Peacemaking is never easy," Wilson told her audience, "but it is much superior to bullets."

Well said.

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Last update:  12 Dec 2000