It is difficult not to feel despair and powerlessness at this awful juncture. Millions in the world fought with all their hearts and minds to avoid violence in Iraq. Inevitably, when bombs fall, there is a deep and emotional void that is opened.
Many will pray. Others will simply reflect. Countless numbers will continue to take to the streets. But all will worry over the extent of destruction to come and the scope of its repercussions.
We have seen dark moments before. Slavery, the holocaust, the Vietnam War – man’s inhumanity to man is not to be underestimated.
In the fight against apartheid, we saw times that seemed the world had come to an end. The nation wept in 1993 with the assassination of Chris Hani, the widely popular leader who many thought would succeed Nelson Mandela as head of the African National Congress (ANC). Violence clenched South Africa. The constitutional negotiations between the ANC and the whites-only National Party were broken nearly beyond repair.
This was the lowest point of our struggle. But faith prevailed, as did the moral fortitude of average people to do what is right. With it, apartheid ended.
In today’s moment of deep anguish over the war, it is important to recognize the reasons for hope and pride, both in the United States and across the globe.
Never in history has there been such an outpouring of resistance from average people all around the world before a war had even begun. Millions took a stand. This doctrine of moral and popular preemption must be sustained.
Countless nations, many of them quite impoverished, listened to the majority voices of their own citizens opposing the war. These governments opted not to take the huge sums offered to support the military effort, but instead chose to heed the sentiments of their citizens. In these contexts, this was a considerable step forward for democracy.
A first step to personal healing is to acknowledge the depth of the devastation that many of us feel. We should not pretend it does not exist.
But, we must also look forward. The energies mobilized recently must not dissipate. They should be channeled and broadened.
This is the beginning, not the end, of heightened vigilance. With war, domestic civil liberties face their greatest threat. We must not squelch the right to protest under the pressures of patriotism.
World attention has in the past months fixated on the desire for a diplomatic and United Nations solution. If we want lasting peace and security in the Middle East, if we want international law to hold any meaning, we must begin to require that UN resolutions are applied uniformly across all countries. We must begin to focus our energies in that direction.
In Iraq, we must watch to see that the promises for a truly functioning democracy are honored, that the long-term and expensive commitment for rebuilding is provided.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Ian Urbina is associate editor at the Middle East Research and Information Project.
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