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Thursday 21 September marks the International Day of Peace for which I’d like to offer this music video of an a cappella piece called “These Ruinous Wars”.
First, let’s backtrack a bit! When I looked up the International Day of Peace, I found that it was established by the United Nations General Assembly 42 years ago. This got me pondering: has the world progressed towards peace since then? Many would argue that world conflicts are getting worse.
I have a slightly different take on the matter. Going back 100 years ago, there were wars in all parts of the world, and for a variety of causes from ethnic or political conflicts to civil wars, small rebellions to revolutions, genocides, and of course the two world wars. Just between 1900 and 1944 (stats taken from the not so scientific Wikipedia source – though very useful to get a general ball park number), the world witnessed more than 600 conflicts. Yet, since the beginning of the 21st century “only” 128 conflicts or wars have begun. But of course, you’ll notice that we’re comparing 23 years with 44 years of conflicts, so let’s compare the current numbers with the first 23 years of the 20th century: between 1900 and 1923, there were 412 conflicts – that’s a 222% increase compared to the conflicts in this century.
And yet, many of us have the impression that there are more conflicts in our time. It seems that there is another reason, and that is possibly due to the world communication system we now have. Back in the early 20th century, individuals living in Australia or Ireland might not have heard any news about the Venezuelan Crisis of 1902–03. Of course, many of the 19th century conflicts were about gaining national independence from colonial entities, so that may have also skewed the numbers. So, what is happening?
I’m no historian by any stretch of the imagination. It just seems from the news and social media, that many people are tired of seeing violence used to solve conflicts. One of the ways we can see this surge of proactivity is in the form of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Starting from the end of the Second World War, NGOs began to form in order to empower citizens and communities. Since 1945, NGOs have grown exponentially and it is now estimated that there are 10 billion NGOs in the world.1
NGOs currently focus on the fields of human rights, social justice, sustainable environment, and many more areas for progress. For example, NGOs around the world work towards establishing sustainable water solutions, offering health care and building schools – many NGOs are prioritising the education of girls in male-centred localities. NGOs also help by providing assistance after natural disasters as well as advocating for peaceful solutions to conflict and for better legislation and fairer and equitable judicial systems around the world.
NGOs can function thanks to funding to pay their employees, but they also recruit many volunteers. For example, in Australia, NGO employees make up 8% of Australian workforce. 2 It is estimated that 84% of adult citizens worldwide believe that positive social change is important and they participate in social change in some way or the other (employment, volunteer work, donations). 3
So, why are we still having so much conflict, and why do many still believe that conflict will never end? I believe that our perception is skewed by many factors. Just a few of them are mentioned here:
- Global Communication: more and more people have access to the internet from their phones, meaning we can all instantly gain access to live news from the other side of the planet.
- What Bleeds Leads: an infamous and sadly truthful reality of what makes a click worthy headline. Even in social media, studies have shown that anything that enrages us seems to keep us glued to the screen more than happy smiles. 4 Johann Hari, in his excellent book about how social media has stolen our focus writes: “If it’s more enraging, it’s more engaging.”
- Integration & Disintegration: the gap between those working for progress and those insisting on greed and violence is becoming wider. When the majority agrees on violent methods to solve conflict, nobody is outraged or incensed. But the higher our values, the more we will want social change. The widening gaps are related to the teaching of Baha’u’llah about the twin processes of integration and disintegration happening simultaneously.
The Baha’i Faith offers a solution to achieve world peace. Baha’u’llah wrote:
The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. 5
While the beautiful concept itself is simple, many of us might find it challenging to implement into our daily lives. So, getting down to the nitty-gritty, what can you and I do about it? Can our daily choices and actions truly help bring about world unity? The Baha’i Teachings tell us the first step is to recognise – and firmly believe – that we are all one large human family, that all human beings are fundamentally equal, no exceptions. A subsequent step is to ensure that our actions to reflect our beliefs. Shoghi Effendi said, “The world is tired of words; it wants example….” 6 Abdu’l-Baha also said that we must strive to love everyone:
Shed the light of a boundless love on every human being whom you meet, whether of your country, your race, your political party, or of any other nation, color or shade of political opinion. 7
If you listen closely to this episode of the Baha’i World News Service’s podcast called “In Conversation”, you can hear one participant, whose life in Ukraine has been completely upended, talk about an everyday contribution towards building peace, such as a group of friends ceasing to backbite.
This brings me back to the music video of “These Ruinous Wars”. Baha’u’llah told us that wars will actually end when we finally stop creating differences where there are none. He said:
That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled—what harm is there in this?… Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the “Most Great Peace” shall come…. 8
I have set the last part of the above quote to music and have added some images to reflect the contrast between wars and the oneness of the human race. May this music video touch your souls as we also reflect on the words of the Universal House of Justice in its message of 1 November 2022 to the Democratic Republic of the Congo:
Baha’u’llah describes the purpose of human life as essentially spiritual in nature. An individual’s true self is to be found in the powers of the soul, which has the capacity to know God and to reflect His attributes. The soul has no gender, no ethnicity, no race. God sees no differences among human beings except in relation to the conscious effort of each individual to purify his or her soul and to express its full powers.
In that same message, the House of Justice reminds us that Baha’u’llah has enjoined us to
… “associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the earth with joy and radiance”, with the assurance that “consorting with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord”.
As vocalized in the song, let us all do our part to eradicate fruitless strife and ruinous wars.
- “Facts and Stats About NGOs Worldwide”, Global Leadership Bulletin
- “2014 Social Change Impact Repor”, Walden University
- Johann Hari, Stolen Focus, p. 131.
- Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah
- Shoghi Effendi, in Compilation: Excellence in All Things
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks
- Words spoken to E. G. Browne, from his pen portrait of Baha’u’llah, J. E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, pp. 39-40
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