Culture, language and identity are the foundations of a nation. If these elements are manipulated, the consequences could be undesirable. History is evidence of this. Unity should be at the core of any state. Where there is unity, there is peace. Countries that are peaceful are the envy of the war-torn nations.
Let us start with the premise that culture is not universal, although there are elements of a culture that are common. Think of the Pygmies in the Kalahari Desert. Devoid of politics, they live their own isolated lives in a community. Left alone, they have survived for centuries until outsiders started to impose their culture and values, to which the Pygmies resisted. Take another example, the First Nations of Canada or the aborigines of Australia. They lived for centuries until Europeans entered their territory. War, colonization, religion and economics have devastated many regions of the world. No continent has been spared. Modern warfare and conquest have imposed a culture that was alien to the native population. Divide and rule has been practised by all colonising nations. Unity is spoken about but seldom practised.
Let’s bring this argument to the present-day reality. Take the war in Ukraine as an example. All the talks about peace sound like a comedy, a theatrical display of politics, deceits, and propaganda. One version of history narrates the common existence between Ukraine and Russia. For Russia, the annexation of Ukraine is justified: a common cultural heritage. Is it a war on culture and cultural preservation or territorial expansion? One argument is that the Russians and Ukrainians are not Europeans, therefore, Europe and its allies should stay out of it. Remove ego, the problem is resolved. The statements made by various political leaders attest to this. When culture is threatened, the outcome is war. Remember what happened when Saddam Hussein tried to annex Kuwait and claiming that it is Iraq’s territory? The consequences of this invasion have altered middle east politics forever. Saddam Hussein when he was alive talked about a common Arab culture and heritage. It seems the same argument is applied by the Russians. Outsiders see these as an invasion; therefore, war is the only option and the war mongers become the defenders. Very sad. Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Hitler, and others have all tried to annex territories through conquests. Empires built out of wars, conquest and cultural supremacy have eventually declined.
Cultural resistance is a powerful force. It stopped Napoleon and Hitler. The Americans and Russians were humiliated in Afghanistan. Now they are bogged down in Syria and Libya. Many years ago, Gaddafi stated that he was an Arab, and could not be anything else. He paid a heavy price for his nationalist fervour. Since he was killed, Libya has fallen apart. The reasons are well documented. History has therefore taught us that culture cannot be manipulated; people eventually rise. But history repeats itself.
When power, control, dominance and ego enter the equation, the dynamics are changed. These become the goals of modern political systems and in pursuit of these goals, a culture that is based on these goals is imposed. Remember Bush’s headline making statement and a warming to the world: “Either you are with us or you are not”. Those who refused to bow down to his demand were severely punished. This is a dangerous precedent, where one man essentially called the shots and defined world order.
For peace to prevail, the military interventions should cease. Whether it is Ukraine or elsewhere, the modern political machinery based on the above elements, must retreat or take a few steps back. Allow people to defend and preserve their culture, language and way of life. Sounds simple. Yes, it is simple, that is the whole point. Since modern states have become monstrous and complex entities, simple solutions sound so unreal. Resolutions on peace have sitting at the United Nations for decades. The peace treaties in countries like Canada are caught in a web of legal jargons and definitions. However, Canada took the bold effort of apologizing for the inhumane treatment of its First Nations. At least, it is an official recognition of what the colonizers did was wrong. Would the British or French apologize for what they did in Africa or Asia? Very unlikely.
Globalization or the universalization of culture?
One movement that has impacted since the Second World War is globalization. Immediately after the War, institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations, emerge to assist nations to converge towards one common goal: economic growth and development. Globalization became such a powerful economic force that no nations could be spared. Driven by a culture defined on consumerism, nations were integrated. The creation of trading blocs integrated production, transfer of goods, capital and labour. With the advances in technology and communications, the movement gathered momentum and is now dominating the consumer world. One could say that globalization has created a universal culture. Take food, clothes, mass entertainment and international travels, as examples. As Herbert Marcuse would say, the individual is under pressure to consume.
Here is the contradiction. As stated above, wars are destructive and they are killing machines. Historically, millions have died in wars and millions more displaced. Many are still living in camps on borders without basic needs and have become stateless. Lavish conferences take place in secluded resorts to discuss their plights. Experience would tell us there is no immediate need to end the global misery, or at least it is not in the interest of those who control and manipulate the global economy. The desire to end the wars and atrocities is often lacking. Yet people are asked to live together and become part of the global village. There is a political system that is divisive and an economic system that is seeking to integrate. Both do not seem compatible, they are contradictory. Wars and conflicts cause divisions, inequalities, injustices and fear. The victims could not possibly think of an integrated economic system. The millions of refugees who are looking for a home, global integration is a farce. For many unity is a dream. Peace is an illusion.
Culture, language and identity
A peace process must consider culture, language and identity. Peace is not about territories and economic compensation. The First Nations in Canada have been calling for years to have their culture, language and identity recognised. These must form the basis for any territorial settlement. In the Middle East, the same argument is echoed. The conflict in Ukraine is no different. Yet, these do not form part of the agenda. Peace plans have become so complex that they cannot be implemented. What happened to the “road map” in the Middle East? Navigate on this question.
Respect people for what they are. Respect their language and culture. People are proud of their identity. Take these away from them they become aliens. If we understand the causes of the atrocities, peace has a chance. But if war is the only means to justify a policy, there is little possibility for a world without conflict. This sort of Darwinism will continue to divide and rule and the fittest will dominate.
Build a nation, not political enclaves. Culture, language and identity are essential elements for nation-building. These are not simple matters that only require a definition. Entire communities have been exterminated because of these. One group should not become the defenders of identity. All these must be integrated and respected. Nations must be inclusive and not divisive, people should be represented at all levels and remove the fears of becoming victims. Treat everyone as citizens and remove political, economic and cultural barriers. Avoid any form of social Darwinism that make people resistant and exclusive. Policies should not be devised by a few bureaucrats or military generals. The Pygmies had never heard of words like war, injustice, greed or ego. These words did not exist in their vocabulary. The First Nations of Canada want their land back. For two hundred years, peace treaties and land claims are still being discussed. The lack of good faith has resulted in this failure and the mistrust has divided the country. As long as people are not fully integrated in the process and their rights not respected, the resistance will become stronger. Nation-building becomes weaker and conflict stronger. Societies with an intercultural population with various ethnic groups, should remove any mistrust. Otherwise, they become vulnerable and open to conflict and tension. In these situations, the mediating factor is education. Racism, discrimination and other injustices should be addressed openly and all groups should be included. The school curriculum should be inclusive. Very often in multicultural societies these issues are brushed aside and become institutionalised. We tend to forget that amidst all these cultures, there is only one race, that is the human race. If we start with this premise, we can save the human race from eliminating itself. The slogan “unity in diversity” has a lot of merit. But it should not be perceived merely as a slogan and used in speeches. There is no hierarchy within humans. Structures have created the hierarchies and invented the policies that segregate people into communities and artificially create boundaries to exert control and dominance on others. Wars and violence therefore become the ultimate option to resolve conflict. Remove the hierarchies within human societies peace will prevail. My struggle has been to remove the barriers and overcome the injustices that prevail. To build a nation, we have to combat the injustices, prejudices and hierarchies. This will require an engagement from everyone. The war in Ukraine is a mere reminder of how vulnerable the human race is and how fragile we are.