More than four decades later, the world seems as plagued as ever by bloody conflict. But despite the apparent inevitability of war, the search for peace goes on.
Scores of politicians, lobbyists, analysts and intellectuals from across the globe – including former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros Ghali, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and former Lebanese prime minister Salim el-Hoss – are meeting in Brussels this week to debate the causes of conflict and ways to avoid it.
The Axis for Peace conference, hosted in Brussels on 17 and 18 November, will discuss questions such as the war in Iraq, neo-colonialism, the role of the United Nations, the nature of terrorism, intervention by democratic states, economic sovereignty and conflict resolution.
“There is no alternative to peace, not only in the Middle East but throughout the world,” el-Hoss told Aljazeera.net.
The key to peace, he says, lies in justice for all.
Involving more than 140 participants from 30 countries, the debates are likely to attract some controversy, however, by challenging the premises upon which many leading countries and institutions base their official policies and agenda.
The conference will discuss, for example, whether the UN has become a tool for Western-led neo-colonialism, what is “really at stake” behind recent American and French pressure on Syria, and to what extent American military might has subverted international law.
“We are at a decisive moment,” French author Thierry Meyssan told Aljazeera.net.
The carnage in Iraq signals
“The [US-led] coalition seized Afghanistan and then Iraq. It now threatens Syria. It destabilises states by exploiting terrorism or stirring up disorder.
“The UN no longer serves to sort out conflicts, but to justify them,” said Thierry, who is also head of conference organisers the Voltaire Network.
That view is shared by conference panellist Jean Bricmont, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Louvain-La Neuve in Belgium and a noted anti-Iraq war critic. He, too, is ready to name names.
“There is a country whose foreign policy consists of issuing threats against other countries that have done it no harm, and even in sending troops thousands of miles away from its borders under entirely fabricated pretexts,” Bricmont told Aljazeera.net.
“And that country, of course, is the United States.”
US journalist Christopher Bollyn, another conference panellists, warns that the “Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has raised the political temperature in the Middle East to the boiling point”.
In light of the various conflicts blighting the region, the Middle East casts a long shadow over the conference’s proceedings.
Many of the prominent Arab politicians, thinkers and journalists due to attend reiterate the common view in the region – often denied or downplayed in Washington and London – that resolution of the Palestinian issue is the key to peace in the region.
“The central issue is Palestine. It is a standing casus belli. The creation of Israel in 1948 was achieved at a horrendous cost,” says el-Hoss.
Former Lebanese PM El-Hoss:
“The wounds never healed and hordes of Palestinian refugees remain in utter destitution. Peace and stability may never be attained until all refugees are given the opportunity to go back home in accordance with UN Resolution 194.”
A former adviser to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and member of the Israeli Knesset since 1998, Ahmed Tibi sees occupation as the biggest obstacle to peace in the region.
“The international community in 2006 should have no tolerance for occupation anywhere in the world. Values of democracy cannot co-exist with the dictatorship of occupation,” Tibi told Aljazeera.net.
“Freedom, peace and stability can and should prevail in the Middle East – then security for all can be guaranteed. We should not accept the superiority of one side over the other.”
Cause and effect
Since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, many Western policymakers have argued that military operations are necessary to combat terrorism – in particular, armed groups originating in the Muslim world.
But the conference will hear that Western policies and interventions over decades have themselves contributed to the rise of religiously inspired extremist groups, while the term terrorist has been used selectively.
“Religious fundamentalism is something that is fostered by wars and aggression, not stopped by them,” says Bricmont.
“Instead of constantly denouncing the political extremism of others, the West – particularly the US and Britain – should hold a mirror in front of itself, and ask what negative impact its aggressive policies have had, not only on peace and stability, but also on strengthening the very extremism that it denounces.”
Some policymakers say military
Bricmont believes constant threats against nations and peoples may not be the best way to convince them to adopt moderate positions.
El-Hoss argues that terrorism has become “a sheer point of view” – used to describe violence practised by Palestinians, Lebanese or Iraqis, for example.
“But when it is committed by Israel, it is termed an act of self-defence, albeit on other people’s land. When it is practised by an American in Iraq or Afghanistan, it is perceived as an act promoting the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights,” says the former Lebanese premier.
“What a blatant anomaly.”
Idealism versus realism
Although controversy rages over the causes of conflict, few would deny that the search for peace is a laudable goal.
However, sceptics will question how realistic it is to promote peace through negotiations in the face of ideological extremism, and powerful state interests.
“Obviously, nobody expects a little conference like ours to bring world peace. But getting people coming from different horizons and different parts of the world to talk to each other is already major progress,” Bricmont said.
Bollyn adds: “There has been no organised peace movement in the US to challenge the lies of the government and mass media about the need to wage war in the Middle East“
“With Iran and Syria being targeted, hopefully this conference will help encourage those who are opposed to the war policies of the current governments of Britain, the US, and Israel.”
Meyssan hopes Axis for Peace will help raise awareness of and resistance to Western militarism. The plan is to make it an annual event that can rally an alternative vision to that represented by the Davos economic summits.
“A collective awareness of the resistance’s means would be enough to paralyse the expansionism of the coalition, provided that it mobilises the elites,” he said.
“That is why we desire creating a sort of Davos – but in the service of justice, not of the economic exploitation. Peace is possible, only if we join our forces.”