1. Frustrated Expectations of Peace at the Beginning of the New Millennium

When the new century and millennium came, a climate of euphoria and collective hope was created on a planetary scale. Finally, the long-awaited peace could be established in the world in a stable and lasting way.

However, following the tragic events of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington, the world was again plunged into a climate of insecurity and fear of the threat of new large-scale terrorist actions.

These events caused the start of what many call the new 21st century World War, an atypical war against international terrorist organizations and the governments that protect them.

Since the terrorist attacks were committed by Islamic extremists, the world remembered the famous thesis of Huntington, formulated years ago, that after the end of the cold war remains a real danger of wars or clashes between civilizations.

Deepening international dialogue to try to agree on shared ethical principles and values

It is clear that these new threats to world peace cannot be definitively solved with military campaigns of international coalitions.

For military actions to be effective, they would need to be backed by an international rule of law, within the framework of a reinforced United Nations.

However, there are serious differences in values and ethics among the new hegemonic powers of the different civilizations that prevent them from reaching an agreement on a universal constitution.

This brings us back to the need to deepen international dialogue to try to agree on shared values and ethical principles that serve as a basis for future legislation or global constitution.

  1. Towards a Global Ethic

In this sense, the work of the United Nations, UNESCO and other global institutions in trying to formulate a global ethic is very praiseworthy, as Henri Bouché Peris rightly explains in the quote below.

In the conditions of present coexistence it is necessary to universalize a minimum morality, that is, an ethic of minimums that can contribute to the peaceful bonding of people. A universal code of conduct is therefore essential. This is the project of universal ethics of UNESCO.

Global ethics that is based on some principles as the rules necessary for this objective. The principle of universality, solidarity, reciprocity, sustainability and the one that is directed to the establishment of peace, development, democracy and human rights is therefore highlighted.[1]

The document "Towards a culture of peace", presented by the United Nations on the occasion of the events held in the year 2000, contains the draft declaration on the culture of peace, that in its first article defines the main values of a good international coexistence.

Article 1. A culture of peace is a set of values, attitudes, traditions, behaviors and lifestyles that reflect or inspire:

  • Respect for life and all human rights.
  • The rejection of violence in all its forms and the commitment to prevent violent conflicts by attacking their causes through dialogue and negotiation.
  • The commitment to full participation in the process aimed at equitably attendance of the development and protection needs of the environment of present and future generations.
  • The promotion of equal rights and opportunities for women and men.
  • The recognition of the right of every individual to freedom of expression, opinion and information.
  • Deep respect for the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, cooperation, pluralism, cultural diversity, dialogue and understanding among nations, among ethnic, religious, cultural groups and others, and among individuals.[2]

Western values based on human rights are insufficient

However, Western values that are fundamentally based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while being very necessary and important values, are clearly incomplete because they do not include the duties or responsibilities that individuals have towards their families, communities, nations and world.

The almost exclusive emphasis placed on the legal aspect of individual rights and liberties, and the lack of concrete reference to goals such as moral maturity and family and community harmony, leave the door open to selfish individualism.

Proof of this is that democratic societies, where these values are most respected, are infested by a materialistic and hedonistic individualism that causes serious problems of moral corruption at all levels, from the violent and compulsive behaviors in youth, the disintegration of the family and the deterioration of community ties, up to the corruption of the highest spheres of power.

This shows that the global ethics of minimum of justice based on respect for human rights is clearly insufficient to offer a solution to all these internal conflicts and problems affecting democratic societies.

The rejection of Western values by other cultures

Many non-Western societies adopt a skeptical attitude, if not intense rejection, toward human rights and democratic values, as Huntington explains in the following quote.

The West, and especially the United States, which has always been a missionary nation, believe that the non-Western peoples should commit themselves to the Western values of democracy, free markets, limited government, human rights, individualism, the rule of law, and should embody these values in their institutions.

Minorities in other civilizations embrace and promote these values, but the dominant attitudes toward them in non-Western cultures range from widespread skepticism to intense opposition. (...)

Almost all non-Western civilizations were resistant to this pressure from the West. These included Hindu, Orthodox, African, and in some measure even Latin American countries. The greatest resistance to Western democratization efforts, however, came from Islam and Asia.[3]

Confucian, Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic societies fears that Western democratic values will destroy their traditional values and customs.

For them, the emphasis of human rights is synonymous with selfish and corrosive individualism generating social conflicts and disorder, and excessive freedom and democratic tolerance is equivalent to moral permissiveness, corruption of youth and destruction of families.

These Eastern societies, who find their identity and sense of life in their traditional beliefs, see Western civilization as a secular culture that is ashamed of its traditional Christian beliefs and has strong antireligious prejudices, where the only meaning people gives to life seems to be the pursuit of profit and pleasure, and the only religion that they preaches is the cult of money, sex, image and power.

For these reasons, many Asian countries now affirm the moral superiority of their traditional Confucian, Buddhist or Hindu values over Western values.

The hostility of Islamic countries

Islamic countries are the most hostile to Western values, as Huntington explains in the following quote.

Muslims fear and resent Western power and the threat which this poses to their society and beliefs. They see Western culture as materialistic, corrupt, decadent, and immoral. They also see it as seductive, and hence stress all the more the need to resist its impact on their way of life.

Increasingly, Muslims attack the West not for adhering to an imperfect, erroneous religion, which is nonetheless a “religion of the book,” but for not adhering to any religion at all. In Muslim eyes Western secularism, irreligiosity, and hence immorality are worse evils than the Western Christianity that produced them.[4]

The West should pay more attention to its internal enemies

The West should not only focus on outside enemies who threaten its security, as is the case of today international terrorism, nor rely excessively on its military and economic power, but should also pay attention to much more dangerous interior enemies, which are —as Huntington says— the «problems of moral decline, cultural suicide, and political disunity in the West. (…) The central issue for the West is whether, quite apart from any external challenges, it is capable of stopping and reversing the internal processes of decay. Can the West renew itself or will sustained internal rot simply accelerate its end and/or subordination to other economically and demographically more dynamic civilizations?» [5]

Western democratic nations need to be morally renewed

Western democratic nations would do well to renew themselves morally, moderate their extreme individualism, regain their Christian roots without falling into old fanaticism, and, within the privileged framework of freedom of belief and religious pluralism that exists in democracies, promote dialogue, understanding and ethical consensus among different religions.

In this way, Western democratic nations could offer a more attractive model of society for other non-Western cultures and thus encourage them to democratize their societies, and it would also be convenient for them to learn or adopt —why not?— from these Eastern societies family and community values not rooted in Western soil.

Thus, cultural and religious barriers could be progressively erased, which would be very beneficial to avoid clashes of civilizations and achieve a stable and lasting world peace.

Miguel Angel Cano Jiménez

Author: Miguel Angel Cano Jiménez

Philosopher, teacher and author of numerous books about peace education

Dr Miguel Cano has a PhD in Philosophy and Educational Sciences and has taught philosophy for 15 years in a Senior High School in Spain. He has published 3 Books in Spanish language: “Science and Values”, “Global Ethics Consensus”  and “Ethics and Peace”. He is currently in the process of translating them into the English language. He also organizes meetings with professors and educators in Spain to teach them the contents of his books.

[1] J. Henri Bouché Peris, «Antropología de la violencia y la paz», en Educación para la Paz. El 2000, Año Internacional de la Cultura de Paz, Marín Ibáñez, R., UNED, Madrid, 2000, pp. 67-68.

[2]   Ricardo Marín Ibáñez, Educación para la Paz. El 2000, Año Internacional de la Cultura de Paz, UNED, Madrid, 2000, pp. 67-68.

[3] Samuel P. Huntington, The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1996, pp. 184, 193.

[4]   Ibid., p. 213.

[5]   Ibid., pp. 303-304.

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