To what extent can military tactics resolve our present day regional and global conflicts ? This article reflects on some alternatives that have reaped more long term benefits to the regions concerned and the global community.
A year into the Syrian crisis, over 6000 soldiers and civilians have died according to reports by the Syrian Arab News Agency. The numbers are escalating and exact figures are hard to verify at this point. Every minute, we are assailed by the classic images of bloodshed, maimed soldiers, kids with bloated bellies and scrawny limbs. We are assailed by images of civil war, war against tyranny, war for geopolitical control and the most ironic of all, war in the name of peace. And we watch on, like a jaded people feeding on the plight of others, acts of violence whose biggest casualties are of course children, women and Nature.
The mainstream discourse of peace is still at the very core male-driven, militaristic and symptoms-oriented. It assumes that if foreign troops are dispatched into the plagued areas, tyrants are shot down, new governments strategically chosen and planted around, peace will triumph in the region. If not, well, the weapons industry will only get a further boost, among other perks. The non-mainstream discourses of peace which could have been more sustainable are unfortunately overlooked. These are advocated by women activists in the likes of Aung San Suu Kyi from Myanmar, Rigoberta Menchú Tum from Guatemala and Wangari Maathai from Kenya, who have all previously been recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. Instead of founding the peace imperatives on classic concerns of national security, economic output and so on, they see peace as a result of conserving the environment and emancipating women.
At some point or the other in our short and eventful history, Nature and women have both been victims of patriarchal ways of thinking and the culture of control brought about by the Enlightenment. By feminising Nature and later mechanising it, it not only became easier to conceive of imperial conquests or to chart new territories, but to pump in more fertilisers into the ground, churn out more produce, and to disguise possible greed and tyranny as necessary routes to development. Unfortunately, as we all know, these motives have created a starkly divided planet and most solutions have only served other lucrative ends, whether in the form of foreign aid, GM seeds or the arms deals. Even in the West, after the fall of the Twin Towers, the stock prices of gold and oil actually shot up. It would not be an exaggeration to imagine global production lines actually thriving on others’ misery and despair.
Despite their role as caregivers, those who actually sow the seeds in the rural areas, women have not been spared from the quest for control. In fact, the three women activists mentioned were doubly victims of oppression, struggling to have their voices heard in male-driven, post-colonial contexts, and causing others like Gayatri Spivak to ask, ‘can the subaltern speak ? ‘ And yet, being strong-headed, they applied various non-violent tactics to assert their voice. San Sui Kyi adopted the path of non-cooperation and defied the ban on public gatherings, Maathai launched tree planting campaigns and Menchú Tum developed interventions such as The United Representation of the Guatemalan Opposition to advocate Indian rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation.        
Taken collectively, their beliefs on national and global conflict resolution go to the very root of human suffering, natural resources. Interestingly, they all call for the conservation of the environment first in order to ensure a more equitable distribution of natural resources and hence secure peace and harmony in the region. They base their arguments on deep-seated traditional beliefs. Menchú Tum speaks of the ‘cosmovision’, according to which, Nature, living things and spiritual beings are intricately connected. Upsetting any one of them, would destabilise the whole network. This interconnectedness approximates what Desmond Tutu would call ‘ubuntu’, and Barry Commoner would call the ‘first law of ecology’.
Against the Western individualistic, capitalist ethos, the traditional communities have always revered Nature and collaborated with others who rely on the ecosystem for their survival. The term ‘eco’ in ecosystem is in fact derived from the Greek word ‘oikos’ which means ‘home’ ; ecosystem is hence an expanded home which encompasses Nature and civilisation. It is in this spirit that Maathai initiated the Green Belt movement and with other women planted thirty million trees in Kenya. Through this, they generated enough income to support their children’s education and household needs. For Maathai, this act symbolised the common values of ‘love for environment conservation, self and community empowerment, volunteerism, strong sense of belonging to a community of Greens, accountability, transparency and honesty’. She firmly believed that the renewed emphasis on ecological balance would help improve the Kenyan’s livelihood, the women’s role as purveyors of care, and in the short and long run alleviate poverty and conflicts.
Often, these women activists’ voices and traditional wisdom fizzle out in the midst of heavy steel and clenched fists. Yet, as Mother Theresa stated in the Nobel speech of 1979, ‘we in our family don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace – just get together, love one another’. Man has conquered territories so many times over ; why not change tactics and cooperate, give back to Nature and its beings unconditionally, develop an ethics of care that in the words of Carol Gilligan, would centre on ‘responsiveness in an inter-connected network of needs’, an oikos where the disenfranchised many would reap as much if not more than the greedy few ?