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”World conflicts” are not limited to the violence of all-out war. ”Terrorism” currently refers to non-state violence directed at civilians and combatants in contests of will, power, and systems. Terrorism also includes any kind of organized violence against civilians. Hence, nations killing their own or other civilians qualify as ”state terrorists” as distinct from ”extra-state terrorists” all the way from ad hoc suicide bombers to organized guerrilla movements.
Globalization is another form of world conflict, which is sometimes physical (war) and sometimes structural (domination, exploitation, humiliation). Whatever its multiple meanings, globalization includes major clashes between employers and workers, from those in developed countries who are fired or forced to accept wage and benefits cuts to those working for low wages under degrading conditions in less developed countries. Increasingly, nations’ economies compete with each other in brutal ways and devastate ecologies and national self-sufficiency, frequently causing vast involuntary population movements and straining natural resources to their breaking points.
World conflicts also include wars between ethnicities (Hutus and Tutsis in East Africa), religions (Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland), and fusions of religions and ethnicities (Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka, Jews and Palestinians in Israel/Palestine). As with wars between nation states, these conflicts blend anger over differences in wealth and territorial control with belief in one’s own group’s legitimacy and the illegitimacy of the opponent.
In addition to political, economic, ethnic, and religious dimensions of world conflicts, perhaps the least attended crucial aspect is social psychological: anger. Like all emotions, anger originates in an innate predisposition joined with real experiences that trigger it. Enraged people commonly are so consumed with anger that it frightens them to the point where they cannot figure out where to direct it.
Societies routinely lift anger away from its usual mundane contexts of family, work, politics, citizen—government relationships, and countless miscellaneous instances wherein people get frustrated with and hurt by each other. The anger of countless citizens is then diverted to structures where it is released against entire other groups who rarely if ever deserve it.
War is the largest-scale way of deflecting anger away from its original settings. Others include all forms of domination which are, social psychologically, forms of reciprocal anger of dominators and dominated, with one side ordinarily having the upper power hand over the other.
There are ways to engage in conflict besides violence which are slowly entering into public consciousness. These include countless forms of non-violent conflict resolution. In the recent period, its exponents and practitioners trace a line from Thoreau through Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Aung Sang Suu Kii, among others.
Peace visions in this era include addressing the needs of all people on the globe for cooperative associations increasingly replacing competitive ones, environmental health and safety, adequate health care, decent housing and nutrition, vibrant and viable communities and societies, and productive, fulfilling lives in relationship with selves, others, and the planet.
Organizations and movements that promote and practice peace number in the thousands throughout the world. They are less developed, known, and experienced than organizations and movements promoting and practicing war and other forms of physical and structural conflict, but they are clearly in motion. If they gain the momentum they need to banish war to the history books, we will still face a slew of grave conflicts that will require inventiveness, patience, and determination to solve satisfactorily. Once violent conflict is ended, the resolution of conflicts will move from death and devastation to creative forms of engagement, recognition, and compromise. There is no greater challenge facing our planet than this.
- Berman, P. (2003) Terror and Liberalism. Norton, New York.
- Fellman, G. (1998) Rambo and the Dalai Lama: The Compulsion to Win and Its Threat to Human Survival. SUNY Press, Albany, NY.