They say “may peace prevail on earth”, but every night, there are fires burning in the terrible slums of Nairobi, Jakarta, Guatemala City and Mumbai.
The World Education Forum is now taking place in Seoul, South Korea. UNESCO and Korea organized this colorful event. Everyone is talking, others are singing, and a few are dancing.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, is talking peace, and the head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, is talking peace.
Peace, peace, peace! It has been turned into one of those cliché words that are repeated in every political speech, words like “freedom” and “democracy”.
The military top brass claims it exists to defend peace. Leaders, who are giving orders to destroy entire nations, killing millions, demand peace. Neocon economists, financing war and profiting from it, demand peace. It seems like, these days, whoever murders, bombs, mutilates and robs is obsessed with, peace.
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So what is peace, really? Is it a state of existence in which there are no missiles flying and no bombs exploding? Is it only that?
In 2014, I worked on my documentary film for the Latin American television network, TeleSUR. I ended up filming in some of the toughest slums on earth, in Matare and Kibela, both located in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. One of my “guides” had the nickname “Fire”.
Fire used to be a gangster. He had no other choice. He didn’t know any better when he was a child and everyone around him was a gangster, too. They had to be.
At one point, tired, he sat down at the curb. His calves were exposed. There were several scars from bullets, clearly visible.
“I feel old”, he said. He was only slightly over 30. “I used to have many friends here. Now I am alone. All my friends are dead.”
Officially, there is peace in Kenya.
For decades, Kenya functioned as a client state of the West, implementing a savage market regime, hosting foreign military bases. Billions of dollars were made here. But almost nowhere on earth is the misery is more brutal than here.
Two years earlier, while filming my “Tumaini” near Kisumu city and the Uganda border, I saw entire hamlets standing empty like ghosts. The people had vanished, died – from AIDS and hunger. But it was still called peace.
Peace it was when the US military medics were operating under the open sky, on desperately poor and sick Haitians, in the notorious slum of Cité Soleil. I saw and photographed a woman, laid on a makeshift table, having her tumor removed using only local anesthetics. I asked the North American doctors, why is it like this? I knew there was a top-notch military facility two minutes away.
“This is as close as we get to real combat situation”, one doctor replied, frankly. “For us, this is great training.”
After the surgery was over, the woman got up, and supported by her frightened husband, walked away towards the bus stop.
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Back to peace…
It is not peace if a woman gets raped in the middle of the street, and while she is screaming for help, her neighbors are scared to even open their doors.
It is not peace when old people are dying, abandoned and surrounded by suddenly useless memories, totally alone.
It is not peace when the murder rate in some city or neighborhood reaches that of a war zone. It is not peace when life expectancy is hanging somewhere around 40 years.
It is not peace when people live in constant fear of losing their house, their job, and all basic necessities.
It is not peace when members of minorities are treated like animals, killed by police, discriminated against at every strep of their lives.
If someone asks me to define war, allowing me to use only one word, without even thinking I would reply “fear”.
It is not peace when society is petrified!
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Peace, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, is that serene surface of the lake lost deep in the forest, so brilliantly depicted by your traditional artists.
Peace is when a mother sings a lullaby to her child, unhurriedly, offering her entire heart.
Peace is when people know that if they become ill there will be doctors ready to fight for their lives, free of charge, no matter what effort it takes, no matter what equipment it requires and what cost it incurs.
Peace is when human life matters more than anything else, much more than power and profits.
Peace is when every citizen knows that knowledge is free, and that it constitutes a basic human right. Peace is when knowledge is valued and respected and admired.
Peace is when women can leave their houses freely, without being terrified.
Peace is knowledge that somewhere there, in that big government building, sit decent human beings, not perfect, but decent, working hard to improve the welfare of the people.
Peace is faith that life is improving, that humanity is marching forward.
Peace is kindness. It is compassion and solidarity.
Peace is certainty that there are several basic certainties, and that there will be more of them with each coming year.
Peace is when the entire body relaxes, the mind opens and the heart begins beating regularly.
Peace is that smile which appears on our faces, when we know that something pleasant is ahead of us, or when we see the beautiful colors of pristine nature.
Peace is in beauty and in reciprocated love.
But above all, Peace is lack of fear.
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Sometimes it is necessary to fight for peace. Sometimes many brave men and women have to die for peace because peace is also true freedom, and it is integrity. And freedom and integrity have their price: no despot wants to give them away for free.
The World Education Forum is a good venue to ask some pointed questions, and to straighten up the lexicon. Education? Yes, of course, but what education, and education for whom? Education based on what ideals?
UNESCO is a great organization, with a brave, and proud past. It should not be allowed to sink to the level of other and servile UN agencies.
Ban Ki-moon should be challenged publicly! And so should be Jim Yong Kim, for taking dictates from the most violent and aggressive nations on earth. There is no time for politeness, anymore. Millions are dying. Peace, true peace, is being violated. Fake peace is promoted. Fake peace is what we are told to desire.
Philosophy is not for dusty library shells. All of us are now obliged to analyze, to rethink essential concepts. In order to change the world, we have to first redefine all basic terms and meanings: freedom, democracy, and peace!
I want to live in peace, Mr. Ban Ki-moon! But not in the peace that you are promoting: not in the peace for those chosen few, not in a peace, which is sacrificing millions.
There is one beautiful, truly stunning sister of Peace. She is often restrained, most of the time she has to hide. But without her, Peace will never be able to succeed. Her name is Justice!
Andre Vltchek counterpunch.org