Workshop on Peace and Spirituality

People’s Forum at Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) IV

Copenhagen/September 19 to 22, 2002

“Peace and Spirituality – Role of Spirituality and Religion for People-centred Security” – September 21st, 2002

Challenges of globalisation and religious fundamentalism for peace movement.

In the name of Allah, All-Merciful, Most Merciful.

Sidi Ali al-Jamal, one of the people of knowledge and spiritual illumination in Islam, said:

A basic wisdom is that the key of things are their opposites. (The Meaning of Man, Diwan Press, Norwich, UK. p118)

If we earnestly desire peace we must equally earnestly understand the nature of the war being waged in our time. We have posited a peace movement and opposite it the combined forces of globalisation and religious fundamentalism, thus hinting at some covert unity of the latter two terms and that they comprise the party of war. Without entering upon the subject of fundamentalism in any great detail for the moment, I would only note that the most famous figure of that movement is indeed the son of one of the super wealthy figures of our time and product of a strata of obscenely wealthy people in his country and so linked to an intrinsic part of the process of globalisation, if at first the nature of the relationship and the link escape us.

Globalisation is itself a process of war. Most of us are all too aware that at stake in Afghanistan is control of a major strategic oil pipeline, just as we have all seen openly stated that the oil in Iraq is of utmost significance in a conflict that not a few have discerned can lead to major global destabilisation and possibly world conflict.

Add to that the historical connections between the major U.S. protagonists around the American president and the oil cartel and we have a disturbing situation indeed. Furthermore we have the remark made by the editor of Harper’s magazine on the BBC Simpson's World:

'these wars are advertising campaigns, America's economy has been running on defense spending for 50 years'.

We are in peril of being overwhelmed by cynicism, helplessness and apathy at the sheer scale of the dishonesty involved. That is the case in which the war in question is simply old-fashioned war with tanks, planes and bombs. But globalisation itself can rightly be considered a war waged by the super-wealthy on the poor of the earth. I suspect that we are all familiar with the plight of coffee cultivators in South America and the return to actual – not metaphorical – slavery in the cocoa plantations of the Ivory Coast, while at the same time an elite of traders can become indecently wealthy from a few fluctuations in these prize commodities’ values in just a matter of minutes before even the crops have been planted.

Something which is deeply unjust is happening against which the forces of law and order seem completely helpless. To understand this injustice we must look at its opposite: justice. We should examine that in the context of our most frequent ordinary transactions, buying and selling, since they have the most direct impact on our lives. The most fundamental just act, which is the bedrock of any sane society, is that in any purchase, contract, or barter there should be two equal parties who transact without coercion – and in particular without the coercion of pressing need – and who are both content that they have given and received things of equal or equivalent value. This fundamental pre-condition of sanity and justice no longer exists in a way that people from any epoch of human history in any place on earth would recognise.

The laws of just transactions and commerce have been completely abandoned. The first to go was the prohibition of usury, a sin which in Christian society meant that the unrepentant usurer would not receive the last rites nor a Christian burial. Usury reached what ought to have been a nadir when bankers were handed the power to invent money out of nothing simply by printing it; the creation of paper money and its subsequent sub-species electronic credit card money, etc. However much worse was to come.

The industrial revolution did away with the entire global order of small independent craftsmen and farmers by the simple expedient of flooding the market with innovative novelties and regular items undercutting the known market prices thus forcing the others out of business. Undercutting is a criminal act. In place of those societies of multitudes of moderately prosperous farmers, traders and craftsmen, we have a tiny oligarchy of super wealthy financiers and speculators, then a managerial class and finally the masses of middle-class workers who are heavily indebted and, in all but name, slaves. We would categorise the matters we have touched upon as being fundamentally illegal and deeply criminal in a real, not metaphorical, sense.

Please believe me that I do not mean to parade these monstrous matters in order to reduce us all to impotent rage and despair, but to lead on from diagnosis of the disease to a remedy, which, if Allah wills, we will take and be cured. There is no power and no strength but by Allah.

Now if we owe the fundamentalists anything it is a debt of gratitude for exposing the total futility and folly of attacking this criminal system since in every case it has strengthened them.

Our only recourse then, if we are not to take up arms against this deviant order to overthrow it, and we have clearly discounted that as a possibility, is to restore an honest and just society. That society will:

  • transact in gold, silver and commodities with actual values, and not with worthless electronic credit or paper money;
  • establish open market spaces in which anyone – except for the mega-corporations – can freely transact without enormous capital expenditure and rents, because if people cannot freely go into the market to sell their wares we do not have a free society;
  • restore the just contracts governing commerce that permit equal and just sharing of risk, profit and loss rather than the fixed interest rates of the banks or the completely immoral activities of stock exchanges.

This is only the starting point of an outline of some of the key elements of a just commerce in a sane society.

Injustice must inevitably lead to war since it is in itself an act of warfare. Justice does lead to peace and peace to the revival of widespread spiritual experience and knowledge. Justice, worship and spirituality are intrinsic parts of the holistic affair we call religion in its fullest sense. It is that religion, in the real sense of the word, as worship of the Divine, establishing justice for the poor, right governance, generosity and real giving to those in need, that must be restored in our time, rather than religions as theological talking shops or the empty search for one’s own spirituality in the midst of a world criminally robbing the world’s poor of even the remotest chance of basic good health, let alone any opportunity of wholesome prosperity.

Thomas Carlyle said:

It is well said, in every sense, that a man’s religion is the chief fact with regard to him. A man’s, or a nation of men’s. By religion I do not mean here the church-creed which he professes, the articles of faith which he will sign and, in words or otherwise, assert; not this wholly, in many cases not this at all. We see men of all kinds of professed creeds attain to almost all degrees of worth or worthlessness under each or any of them.
This is not what I call religion, this profession and assertion; which is often only a profession and assertion from the outworks of the man, from the mere argumentative region of him, if even so deep as that. But the thing a man does practically believe (and this is often enough _without_ asserting it even to himself, much less to others); the thing a man does practically lay to heart, and know for certain, concerning his vital relations to this mysterious Universe, and his duty and destiny there, that is in all cases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all the rest. That is his _religion_; or, it may be, his mere scepticism and _no-religion_: the manner it is in which he feels himself to be spiritually related to the Unseen World or No-World; and I say, if you tell me what that is, you tell me to a very great extent what the man is, what the kind of things he will do is. Of a man or of a nation we inquire, therefore, first of all, What religion they had? Was it Heathenism,--plurality of gods, mere sensuous representation of this Mystery of Life, and for chief recognized element therein Physical Force? (Heroes, the Heroic and Hero-Worship in History, Thomas Carlyle.)

This last question of Carlyle’s is very important. A theme of our workshop is certainly the relationship of religions to each other, and people have raised the ideas of pluralism and the multi-cultural society. Yet, we can say truly that there is actually one religion on the earth today, and it is not authentic Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism. That religion we could characterise as the old secular Roman polytheism, that worldly-wise worship of many gods, which will tolerate all the gods of every group and religion as long as they conform to the pragmatic religion of Roman tolerance and polytheism. Along with the worship of Eros, Aphrodite, Venus and Mars, this Roman form has been expanded to tolerate the Christian and Judaic God and all the other religious forms, as long as we in turn will accept modern state, financial and corporate idolatry, which we do not accept.

Within that clear dominant form, the old spiritual religions have little other reality than to be so many football club-like forms whose devotees passionately support them. We, however, call for the restoration of real religion in the sense we have outlined, since we have said the pragmatic tolerant Roman form is destroying the planet and destroying humanness itself, paradoxically enough in our age, in the very name of humanism.

Abu Sa’id al-Khudri said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless with him and grant him peace, saying, ‘Whoever of you sees something repugnant then let him change it with his hand, and if he is not able then with his tongue, and if he is not able then with his heart, and that is the weakest faith’.” Muslim narrated it. (The Complete Forty Hadith, Imam an-Nawawi, published by Ta-Ha Publishing Ltd., London, UK.)

We freely admit our utter weakness. We find this activity of these criminals, and the tremendous suffering and destruction which it causes utterly repugnant. We have moved from our revulsion at this criminal activity to talking against it, teaching concerning it and about right, healthy and just ways of transaction. We ask Allah to help us in the establishment of a just, peaceful and genuinely spiritual society on earth.