Belief is a habit of mind that reckons possibilities. It is a faith that fires an alchemy that transforms possibility into reality. It is seeing beyond sight. At the same time, belief walks alongside unbelief and suspicion. Last week, President Obama declared several beliefs in his remarks before the 2013 Opening Session of the UN General Assembly. He spoke of the beliefs of the UN’s founders and of his own. This week, his belief in the possibility of peace with Iran and in Syria meets the caution of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others in the region.
The founders of the UN believed that humanity could resolve conflicts, set international norms, and cooperate for world peace through an international organization. Over time, the UN has produced both success and failures. Friday, September 27, the UN Security Council agreed on a resolution that would bring about the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. This was a moment of success after years of failure to reach an agreement regarding the Syrian civil war.
Last Tuesday, the president spoke of his belief that lasting peace cannot come from military action. Rather, diplomacy, democracy, openness, and a respect for human dignity are the pathways to peace. I say that President Obama is a just peace pragmatist.
He wants to solve conflict by correcting the underlying problems that explode into war. Whether there is more of less human suffering is the measure of the success or failure of a policy. Tomorrow, Israelis Prime Minister Netanyahu will speak before the UN.
I believe that President Obama knows that a just peace cannot happen within a neo-colonial, power-over modus operandi. We live in a new century, and the world demands a power-with orientation. No one nation can command peace. The invitation for others to shoulder their responsibilities and to receive international applause for their actions is what Nelson Mandela meant when he spoke of leading from behind.
Yet, while the United States works with Russia on the question of chemical weapons in Syria, and while we see the slightest warming of an ice-cold relationship between the United States and Iran, there are those whose unbelief remains steadfast. Some in Israel and in Saudi Arabia think that belief in Iran’s insistence that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes is na ve. Syrian rebels are not happy with the U.S. preference for diplomacy over military strikes.
Yet, I say: it is important to note that the solutions for Syria and for Iran’s nuclear development will not come from the United States, Europe, or Russia. Neo-colonial thinking and acting are ineffectual in a post-colonial moment. The post-colonial moment is a fluid flow of hybrid ideas that brings together western concepts with the culture, history, and aspirations of formerly colonized peoples that will enhance the sustenance and joy of human community.
This means that Syrians have to make the peace in Syria. Israelis and Palestinians are responsible for building a just peace in Israel/Palestine. Egyptian democracy and stability is work for Egyptians. The sectarian rivalry between Sunni and Shi’a is one that the Sunni and Shi’a ought to resolve. Peace between Israel and Iran must be built by these two nations talking. (Ordinary people are already doing this via social media. See: here, here and here.
President Obama’s belief in American exceptionalism notwithstanding, the American people are no longer willing to hemorrhage blood and treasure into conflicts thousands of miles away from our own shores. This too is a post-colonial sensibility. With freedom comes responsibility.
President Obama spoke of his belief that if the world could “resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program” that the United States and Iran could build a new relationship based on “mutual interests and mutual respect.” Also on Friday, September 27, President Obama and the Iranian President Rouhani spoke on the telephone for about 15 minutes. It was the first conversation between presidents of these two countries since 1979.
Just as one swallow does not make the spring, one telephone call does not make the peace. It is, however, an act of belief, an act of faith, that contains within it peaceful possibilities far beyond imagination. At the same time, it is a belief that must stare down unbelief to reach the goal of peace.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.