Let us stand together in protest because it is possible that it may be said about us that we failed to stop oppression, but it must never be said that we failed to protest. While we protest the horrific aggression of Vladimir Putin and the war that he has unleashed on Ukraine we must not fail to protest the ghastly war in Yemen in which according to the UN, until 2020 more than 250,000 people had been killed. By now, 2022, maybe it has almost doubled. The war in Yemen has been going on much longer but doesn’t attract the media publicity that the war in Ukraine is doing. It may be instructive to ask why? All wars are evil, not only because of the innocents who die but even more because of the innocents who survive, bereaved, their lives destroyed, dreams shattered, and a bleak, cold future to look ahead at.
War is no stranger to Europe. Since the Middle Ages European nations have fought one another. The natural outcome of the feudal system of lordship and serfdom. To escape that, the ancestors of many Europeans went to America. But tragically, they replicated the oppression they had escaped and visited death and disaster on the Native Americans and decimated their population in heinous ways. Added to that was the instigation of the Transatlantic slave trade from Africa. The forced migration of uncounted millions of Africans kidnapped, ripped out of their families and homes shipped across the Atlantic in unspeakable conditions. Those who died, fed the sharks and those who survived were sold in auctions to European buyers to live out their lives in abject enslavement. They lost their names, their religions, their identity, and their families. Their children were born into slavery though their Creator decreed that all children everywhere are born free. I say to you that much of the history of America that we teach in our schools is fiction, not history. There is much that needs to change if we are to hold our heads up without shame.
Wars happen because wars make profit. What we see is the destruction of the lives of innocent people. What we don’t hear is the ringing of cash registers for the sale of weapons of mass destruction. Millions of lives are devastated so that the top 1% of 1% can get wealthier. Wars happen because we have created a system where we have made it acceptable to raise our families on earnings from building weapons which have only one utility – to destroy the lives and families of other people, just like ourselves. It is people like us who manufacture these weapons, which are sold to brutal dictators, who pay for them with the blood of their victims, so that our factories can continue to run, and we can continue to maintain the lifestyles that we have become used to. When money is the only criterion of judgment and profit is the only motive, then we can only have a society in which human life has no value. Today we talk about the necessity to abolish nuclear weapons, to reduce if not eliminate greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming, to reduce and eliminate dependence on fossil fuels. But we know that all this is a sham and that we are hurtling towards annihilation. All because making money, irrespective of how it happens, is our real goal. We have a society where we only pretend to worship God. We really worship money and are willing to sacrifice our lives and even more importantly our honor at the altar of money.
It is predatory capitalism which is the root of the problem. It is a no brainer that the strongest economies are those which have the maximum buying power. That can happen only when most of the population has disposable incomes for discretionary spending. That means that the disparity in wealth must decrease. There will still be the wealthy and those who don’t have as much, but the gap must be far less. To achieve this, we must use different metrics to determine the health of the economy. Instead of GDP which is perhaps the worst we must track wealth distribution and real trickle down. This will ensure that more people have money to spend which will drive demand, energize innovation and manufacture, create more jobs, and make for a happier and safer society. I say safer because the safest society is one in which people have something to lose.
That is why I say that war is about profit. The people dying are not important. They are not even doing it to kill them. They are doing it to get rid of inventory, so that they can continue to manufacture more and sell more and make more money. The people dying are only because there has to be a reason to drop a bomb. If they could just drop it in an empty field and go home, believe me, they would. If we want war to stop, we must stop weapons manufacture. Which means we must find another way to make money and resolve conflicts. I think that way is Soccer. Play a match with whoever you are in conflict with and that will decide the outcome. You make money, you don’t need to make bombs, you have fun, you resolve your conflict, and nobody dies. I am serious!!
So, what must change?
Apart from protesting, it is critical to our survival as humans that we reorient our thinking and change what and how we teach our children. This must begin from the earliest age and must extend into university education, especially business education. I say that because it is commerce that drives our world and so the values that it is based on, become our values. Anyone who has graduated from a business school (I did, from one of the best in India), knows well, the language we are taught and use when referring to competition, sales targets, market share and so on. It is the language of warfare. We must question the history we teach.
We teach about Alexander, the Macedonian, who we call ‘The Great’. We don’t ask what was ‘Great’ about him? Did he establish universities, hospitals, or schools? What did he do for the benefit of those he encountered in life? Or is he called ‘Great’ because he raped, plundered, and murdered his way from Greece to India, invading and destroying nations who had done him or his nation no harm? Is this what ‘greatness’ is?
We teach about Julius Caesar who is famously reported to have said at the end of a day’s war in Gaul in which more than 100,000 Gauls had been slaughtered, “Today was a good day.” We teach about those we call ‘Conquerors’, who were really robbers, plunderers and criminals wearing crowns and their henchmen in military uniform. We don’t ask how a uniform makes a murder less foul? We have invented language to disguise the blood and gore, the screams of pain, the tears of despair of those at the receiving end of the so-called great ‘Conquerors’. We talk about ‘Collateral Damage’, and forget to mention that those were someone’s children, mothers, and fathers, whose deaths were as grievous and tragic as would have been the deaths of our own children, mothers, and fathers. There are many more such words and phrases that the wordsmiths have invented and which our media has drummed into us so that we can watch a city being bombed out of existence as calmly as we watch a computer game. We must teach compassion, kindness, honor, respect, and justice. We must teach that it is possible to do great business while practicing all these values. We must teach that it is possible to do great business ONLY while practicing all these values. Otherwise, what we do is not business but looting. We must teach that it is not how much money we make that is important but how we make it. Otherwise, what is the difference between a mafia don and a businessman or woman? We must teach morality and ethical behavior, not in a class titled, ‘Business Ethics’, but in every class from school through college to university. But before all that we must teach this in our homes.
We must identify those who we had previously elevated to hero status and name them for what they were. Not to malign them but so that we take heed from their lives and ensure that ours don’t go down that same path. All this requires that as a society we accept that we have gone very badly wrong and that we need to correct ourselves or face the consequences of our suicidal behavior.
When we talk about war, we must stop our hypocrisy. How long will we continue to lie to ourselves instead of speaking the truth?
Invader = One who goes into another country with weapons, killing its citizens to occupy that country. This is exactly like a robber entering your home and shooting your wife or child.
Resistance Fighter / Defender = Those who fight invaders. That is like you fighting to defend your family.
Insurgent, terrorist = One who defends his country against us when we invade his country.
You say, “Now hold on. Didn’t you say that someone who defends his country against invaders is a Resistance Fighter?”
You reply, “When we defend our country if it is invaded, we are called Resistance Fighter and we are heroes. But when we invade someone else’s country and they defend their homes and fight us, they are called Insurgents and Terrorists.”
You ask, “So what must those whose countries we invade, do?”
You reply, “They must cooperate with us and hand over their countries to us. And they must identify any Insurgents and Terrorists to us, so that we can deal with them.”
Humor apart, nothing will change until we change our language. Language simultaneously reflects thinking and attitudes and influences and changes them. We must learn to speak the truth, if only because we must realize that everyone other than we and our brainwashed followers know that we are lying through our teeth. That destroys our credibility and influence and whatever respect anyone had for us.
We must stop glorifying invaders and mass murderers and their actions. Instead, we must talk about what those wars did to people like us; ordinary men and women trying to raise families, earn a living, and live out our lives in peace and harmony. Ordinary people – like us, believe it or not – whose lives are destroyed overnight, and they are turned into refugees. ‘Refugee’ is not who you are. It is what happens to you for no fault of yours. It happens because someone with a big gun got greedy. If you don’t understand what I am saying, believe me, you will, if it happens to you.
Talk about the blood, the tears, the entrails of soldiers that vultures fight over. Talk about the young 20-year-old, shot in the gut, unable to move his legs or control his bowels, weeping and crying out for his mother, death written large on his face. Talk about schools, hospitals, homes, and markets, bombed, demolished, but their need remains even more than before. Only, it will now take a decade after the war is over, whenever that happens, for those to be rebuilt. Meanwhile, an entire generation will be condemned to a life which is nasty, brutal, and short.
Remember that no matter who wins or loses, weapon sellers always make money. We have created a society in which death is profitable – for some.
In the words of the poet Mahmoud Darvish:
The war will end. The leaders will shake hands. The old woman will keep waiting for her martyred son. That girl will wait for her beloved husband. And those children will wait for their heroic father. I don’t know who sold our homeland, but I saw who paid the price.
While we stand to condemn the war in Ukraine let us condemn all wars, all oppression, and oppressive regimes everywhere. Injustice to one is injustice to all.
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said, “Whoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart—and that is the weakest of faith.”
As we stand for peace, I remind you that peace is not the absence of resistance. Peace is the result. It is not a cause. Peace is the result of justice. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who resist injustice and stand up against it. Had it not been for them, injustice would have prevailed on earth. Those who want peace must be prepared to fight for justice because until justice is established, peace can never be achieved. Without justice, peace is only an intermission between wars.
I mention all this because it is a sign of intelligence to learn from history. Because it is the law that nations and people who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.