In this months's books, two international peace makers offer their solutions for uniting the world: and a study of South Africa shows how big business helps keep it divided.
Editor: Anuradha Vittachi
Paths to peace
by Theo L. Westow
University Press of America (pbk)$11.50
by Adam Curle
Quaker Home Service (pbk) £1.90
These two books landed on my desk when the South Atlantic conflict was at its height They read like tracts for the times, although Theo Westow’s book was written in 1969 and has spent a while in search ofa publisher.
The context in which I read them gave a considerable sharpness to the questions they raised.
Theo Westow, in Beyond Discrimination, is concerned with the way in which nationalism divides our world For him it begins with the idea of the individual in his isolation, who then becomes the building block of the nation state. In his terminology, we need ‘persons’ not ‘individuals’.
The quality of the person is tobe concerned with relationships. He or she is aware of being a member of the human family and therefore, fundamentally, understands that quality of self-sacrifice which makes it possible to be a convinced member of a world community. The individual, by contrast, is always aware of rights, of boundaries which must not be crossed, of the danger posed by invasion from others.
Such ideals have to be given practical expression Westow’ s prescription is for nationalism to be absorbed into a supranational authority and he sees the United Nations as capable of fulfilling this role. The picture which emerges is somewhat idealised. ‘This structure must be genuinely representative of the whole human community, supple enough to remain adaptable to new needs, firmly enough in control to prevent individualistic nationalism from turning into anarchy..
He does little to cope with the problem of how such a body can exercise its power. All the problems of conflict between nation states are multiplied when there is one central authority seeking to manage angry minorities and persuade them that majority interest must prevail It seems likely that the structural solution will simply provide opportunities for dissident groups to rebel against the central rulers as an alternative to conflict between nations.
The Falkiands dispute put a question mark against any suggestion that a body like the United Nations would be able to exercise a moral authority that would be acceptable at a crisis point Every nation appears to be in favour of UN decisions except when they apply to themselves. The British Government believed that Israel should submit to UN resolutions but preferred to keep the Falklands issue in its own hands. Critical insights abound when other people’s interests are at stake: rationality disappears when the justice of one’s own cause is called into question the same mechanism that operates when we see exactly what to do with other people’s children but are unable to cope with our own. We need human beings, regions and nations who are capable of handling their aggression in a way that turns it to creative use rather than stifling it We will not be saved by structures.
By contrast, Adam Curle’s book, True Justice, is about the task of peacemaking. It hinges upon the Quaker conviction that there is ‘that of God in every human being’. The philosophy of Quaker peacemakers is based upon evoking from those in conflict their best selves. Writing of his own experience as a peacemaker, he says’when I have visited someone who might have been described as an’awkward customer’, I have tried to reject that description and go in the spirit of meeting a friend whom I like and respect It is remarkable what a difference this makes to human contact, it becomes alive and warm. I have also reminded myself of the strain, anguish and fear which most leaders experience in times of tension Leaders are lonely; the more grim their circumstances, the lonelier they become.’
This book centres upon personal solotions and not structural ones. It certainly is one very important strand in the whole process to which the human race must address itself if it is to survive. It needs, however, to be linked with a clear recognition of the economic realities which lie behind any justice in the distribution of the world’s resources.
Perhaps he would reject this criticism because his intention was precisely not to focus on the large issues which make people feel without resources to cope. I hope that what I am saying will be of encouragement to those people, of whom I meet so many, who do not see what they can do to alleviate the miseries of the world. But the great issues are built on the foundation of countless smaller ones. Every time we see love where there was hatred, we re-adjust the balance of the cosmos.’
Michael Hare Duke
Dangers of moderation
Decoding Corporate Camouflage:
US business support for apartheid
by Elizabeth Schmidt
Institute for Policy Studies (pbk) $4.95
A New History of Southern Africa
by Neil Parsons
Macmillan (pbk) £3.95
In 1971, General Motors took the unusual step of electing onto its board a black civil rights leader. The Rev. Leon Sullivan was famous, or infamous, for organising massive boycotts in Philadelphia of racially discriminatory businesses.
At his first board meeting. Sullivan challenged General Motors to withdraw its business from South Africa outright The give-em time attitude, he felt, was a sham: ‘people always want to go slow when the rights of black men are at stake’. But no- one on the board supported him. Four years on, frustrated by the criticism that he wasn’t helping to loosen the deadlock, he produced a more moderate plan.
His code of conduct for American companies doing business in South Africa, nicknamed the’ Sullivan Principles’, caught on rapidly. Companies that had been getting uneasy about defending their ethical stance took refuge behind the new code, which was full of well intentioned principles like ‘equal pay for equal work’. But, as women in the West have begun to realise, that’s a meaningless right to offer where the opportunity of obtaining equal work is pretty well nonexistent.
In Decoding Corporate Camouflage, Elizabeth Schmidt shows how the ‘moderate’ code actually helps prolong the exploitation of black workers. Despite its polysyllabic title, it’s a succinct, clearly argued and fact-packed study that documetits the ways in which big business willingly collaborates with a racist and violent government to reinforce apartheid.
A New History of Southern Africa is a history textbook that tells the colonial story from the ‘native’ viewpoint; meticulously researched, economically priced, and fascinatingly illustrated with many original photographs. A step in the right direction for teachers and students. C. S. and A. V.