s a professional diplomat, I recall my curiosity several decades ago about the controversy generated about Father Moon in the United States. I was then serving in Washington, D.C., and was invited by a group of fellow diplomats from Asian countries for a series of informal brainstorming sessions with academics, media persons and young professionals on how, utilizing Father Moon’s initiatives, civil society could strengthen official efforts to create a more peaceful world order.
Many differing viewpoints were expressed on issues such as the Middle East situation, nuclear proliferation, tensions in South Asia, and the state of the Cold War and its implications for poorer countries. But there was agreement that while individuals are naturally loyal to their country, they should think beyond this horizon and contribute for the cause of world peace, that ethics should not be divorced from international relations, that no religion had sanctioned war in its name and any suggestion to the contrary should be firmly rejected, and that Father Moon’s pleas for unification and understanding were perfectly compatible with these priorities and should be welcomed rather than dismissed or condemned.
In succeeding years I represented my country in various capacities in several capitals. A series of coincidences led to my involvement with this remarkable movement in the last couple of years.
While Father Moon’s message touches on all aspects of human life and aspirations, I focus on those aspects which could be relevant to my own life-long passion for strengthening prospects for world peace. It is a truism that, although the vast majority of human beings who inhabit our planet sincerely yearn for peace, the prospects for world peace are not getting better. A major war between big powers is now somewhat unlikely, which is reassuring, but the overall situation is far more unpredictable and dangerous than ever.
Conflicts over territory, power, religion, oil, ideology and culture continue to destroy lives and property, and the overall international security environment, which was supposed to become tension-free with the end of the Cold War, has if anything become more complicated. While old conflicts such as the one which has tortured the Middle East continue to defy solution, new ones and new forms of conflict are taking root.
9/11 ended with horrifying definitiveness the comforting myth that in a unipolar world, at least the world’s only superpower was safe from external threats. The strongest military, political, economic and technological power now suffers from a sense of extreme vulnerability. Since 9/11, the war on terror is in progress but the threat of terrorism refuses to go away. In fact, it has acquired new techniques and expanded through new networks.
The massive show of military strength in Afghanistan and Iraq has not achieved the declared objectives, even though Saddam Hussein has been overthrown and the Taliban displaced. No stable outcome is in sight, and the scale of the human tragedy increases.
North Korea’s defiant testing of a nuclear weapon is only the tip of the proliferation iceberg: a number of other countries, not all of them responsible ones, will follow. Non-state actors will soon have access to weapons of mass destruction, especially chemical and biological weapons. Drug and crime syndicates will take advantage of failing governance not only to spread the culture of violence for profit but also to facilitate trade in weapons of mass destruction for aims that have nothing to do with ideology. Failures in governance will also spawn Maoist-type movements which will threaten law and order and terrorize civil society on a scale not witnessed so far.
Pandemics such as HIV/AIDS and natural disasters like the tsunami add to the threats to international security.
Non-state actors can make an enormous difference, for better or for worse, in terms of the prospects for domestic peace as well as peace between nations. For example, an empowered and aware civil society would be better able to ensure strong democracy, good governance, inclusive development and inter-faith, inter-community harmony. Domestic insurgency is unlikely where civil society ensures minimum levels of democracy, governance and development delivery. Similarly, people-to-people contacts across borders can reduce the chances of conflict between states, even when there are serious inter-state tensions.
If there is a critical mass of motivated individuals addressing any problem, solutions are possible. If, on the other hand, we wait for governments to find solutions, even the best governments may not be able to succeed.
Herein lies the power and relevance of Father Moon’s life and message. The efforts of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) in the Middle East offer a good example of mutual trust and confidence being facilitated between peoples who are supposed to be forever fighting each other in the name of history, geography, religion, security and power.
It is indeed a pity that in this age of globalization and the communication revolution, even close neighbors seem to be separated by vast distances. Communication between not only nations but individuals within nations has become more difficult. The responsibility, role and capacity of each individual to bring about change increase in a world in which governments or the United Nations, which is composed of governments, seem to be paralyzed by their own limitations. By asserting themselves in favor of peace and by practicing what they preach at home, within the family, in the larger society and the nation, individuals can provide the impetus and guarantee for a more peaceful world.
In Nepal, I have been privileged to be part of UPF’s efforts to bring about more trust, confidence, reconciliation and understanding between different groups who were previously in confrontation. The conferences organized in Nepal on conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation have strengthened the awareness of civil society about its role in ending conflict, initiating the peace process and sustaining it to enable the return of inclusive democracy. These conferences have been attended by people from the entire political spectrum in Nepal, representing left as well as right. At the December 2006 conference, the Maoists participated on an equal footing along with the mainstream political leaders. In fact, the Maoist leadership received a delegation of UPF after the conference and conveyed categorical assurances of their commitment to renouncing violence and respecting human rights.
Gandhi’s emphasis on peacebuilding through concentric circles of human commitment—the individual at the center surrounded respectively by the family, community, nation and the world—had much to do with India’s success in liberating itself from the colonial yoke through non-violent means, and it remains at the root of India’s aspiration for becoming a major world power dedicated to peace. This finds an echo for Indians in Father Moon’s emphasis on each individual being prepared to serve, sacrifice, and if necessary, suffer in the cause of peace. Every individual who has transformed the world in any significant way has done this. Gandhi suffered and was repeatedly imprisoned; ultimately, he laid down his life for this cause. South Africa would not have freed itself from human bondage without Nelson Mandela’s years of solitary confinement on Robben Island and his subsequent extraordinary gesture of forgiving his enemies.
Faith was always intended to be a means for self-improvement and enlightenment. Instead, it is being manipulated by vested interests to turn one faith against another and create barriers between individuals, communities and nations. The rise of religious extremism and intolerance threatens peace and human rights, and a "clash of civilizations" is not merely speculative. Father Moon’s proposal to render the UN more effective by having an interreligious council as a supplementary consultative mechanism must be a priority for the reformed and restructured UN. In the meantime, the exercise of establishing strong national interreligious councils will enable different faiths to mobilize public opinion and influence policies at the governmental and intergovernmental levels.
The spread of pandemics such as HIV/AIDS is a major challenge. As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, it is futile to talk of security if millions of people are dying daily or cruelly discriminated against by their fellow-human beings, because of HIV/AIDS. An interfaith consultation on preventing HIV/AIDS would be much more effective than any governmental directives in encouraging individuals, especially the young and those in high-risk categories, to voluntarily practice self-restraint before marriage, appreciate the sanctity of marriage and practice total fidelity within it.
To encourage permissiveness and create false hopes of containing this threat through the use of condoms or medicines does a grave disservice. In India, which may have the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the world, UPF’s efforts to strengthen the fight against this challenge through applying Father Moon’s message have been deeply appreciated by religious leaders, youth organizations, international bodies and experts.
The essence of Father Moon’s message is that unless the root causes of violence are tackled, the world will witness human tragedy on an unprecedented scale. Father Moon’s personal sacrifices and sufferings, his incredibly punishing daily schedule, and his perseverance in building trust where there was enmity, interdependence where there was non-communication, harmony where there was conflict, and love where there was hatred, are examples for the rest of humanity.
The objective is a global family in which human beings of all colors, nationalities and creeds are conscious of their common destiny and mutual interdependence, in which service rather than self is the real meaning of existence at the level of individuals, families and institutions. If we start an irreversible process towards achieving that world, Father Moon’s sacrifices will not have been in vain.