Six months ago this news column criticized President Bush for using the expression “a democratic society is a peaceful society” to justify his argument that aggression against Iraq could foster peace. While the President is not using those exact words lately in his defensive speeches about the war, other world leaders appear to be picking up the phrase.
This past weekend, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan traveled to the Green Zone of Baghdad where he met with officials and urged reconciliation in Iraq before the elections next month. Many media outlets around the world reported on his visit, including the Guardian Unlimited, which carried an AP dispatch reporting his comments. It included a bromide about Iraq becoming a peaceful society.
“We have a clear mandate from the Security Council to do whatever we can to work with the government and the people of Iraq to make sure Iraq takes charge of its own future and develops a stable peaceful society,” Annan said. As a good politician, Annan perhaps has to adopt a diplomatic posture that articulates the Security Council’s version of the rhetoric from the Bush administration.
Pope Benedict XVI issued a much more profound, visionary statement about the nature of a peaceful society just over a week ago, on November 8. He issued his comments for an international conference held in Istanbul Nov. 7-9 on the theme “Peace and Tolerance—Dialogue and Understanding in Southeast Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.”
The Pope emphasized dialogue, respect, and reconciliation as keys for building a peaceful society. “It is the duty of every person of good will, and especially of every believer, to help build a peaceful society and to overcome the temptation towards aggressive and futile confrontation between different cultures and ethnic groups,” the Pontiff wrote. He didn’t criticize any specific country for “aggressive and futile confrontation.”
He stressed the importance for each society of focusing on its own “spiritual and cultural heritage and its ethical values at the service of the human family throughout the world.” His thinking is profound, and similar to the beliefs of many people in the peaceful societies.
While generalizations about peaceful societies must be made with great caution, since they vary so widely, most of those societies take very seriously their spiritual and cultural values that emphasize peacefulness. Many of them are very firmly committed to beliefs and social structures that promote nonviolence. Peacefulness, in one way or another, is at the heart of their worldviews. The Pope’s perspective would resonate well with them.
The Pope also emphasized in his comments the importance of respect, a value that forms the basis of this website. “This goal [of service to humanity] can only be achieved if at the heart of the economic, social and cultural development of each community is a proper respect for life and for the dignity of every human person. A healthy society always promotes respect for the inviolable and inalienable rights of all people.” A few sentences later, he re-emphasizes that “respect for the rights of others, bearing fruit in sincere and truthful dialogue, will indicate practical steps that can be taken [to foster reconciliation].”
His statements echo the epigraph for this website by Benito Juárez and emphasize the factors that help build peaceful societies. He continues his remarks by interpreting his thinking in light of his Roman Catholic faith.
His words, interpreted by a news story on Tidings.com and reprinted verbatim by the Zenit News Agency, appear to continue the firm commitment to building a peaceful world that some of his predecessors have also advocated. If only the politicians, and Christians around the world, would reflect on his thoughts about peaceful societies.