Catch the New Wind Blowing Our Way
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Fr. Eliseo "Jun" Mercado Jr., OMI is senior policy adviser at the Institute for Autonomy and Governance. He teaches peace studies at Notre Dame University Graduate School in Cotabato City and autonomy and federalism at San Beda Graduate School of Law in Manila.
We are living in interesting times, to say the least. There are several writings on the wall and we need to decipher them soon else we all perish!
Today, we are witnessing a global revolution that involves, at first glance, the rapid advances in technology and the rapid movements both of trade and peoples across known frontiers and borders. At a second glance, a new horizon is emerging, which points to knowledge “explosion” and an opening into the cyberspace. Yet, on the other hand, humankind continues, ironically, to be “plagued” by the residue of divisions, fragmentations and conflict that have characterized, in a special way, the past two millennia of our human encounters.
The movies and cinemas beautifully capture these two orientations mentioned above. While Star Wars Series and other Space Travels movies point to the cyber space beyond our planet and galaxy, the other type of movies like Jurassic Park and other ancient mythologies, continues to pull us down to the narrow confine of “geography” and “territoriality”. The former gives us a glimpse of the limitless expanse that our imagination and dream that invite us to beyond the limiting confines of territory and geography. The latter provides for the “grounding” of our conflicts and war.
There are two powerful symbols that can describe these two perspectives. The first one is what I called the “transit paradigm”. Transit is the instrument used mainly to delineate territory and geography. While “transit” has a long view, it returns home to concrete and specific area and space. The other is the “telescope paradigm”. Telescope is the instrument used to see the “beyond” and bridge us to that reality beyond.
By using the “transit” paradigm, we shall be marked and delineated by boundaries and limits. Something like what is mine and what is yours. Translated in our present discourse, this would mean who and what shall be inside or outside the expanded ARMM that shall be called Bangsamoro. What barangays and towns and body of water need to be included or re-attached to the ancestral domain? In fact, by using this paradigm, we sound like real state realtors or brokers agreeing and disagreeing over this piece of land or that piece of body waters. It is rather eerie to hear people debate heatedly and sometimes go to war on this subject when we are supposedly living in an era with no borders and frontiers. This paradigm is border/frontier based hence it carries inevitably a culture that is geography based identity. Inevitably, ethnicity and nationality are geography based and it becomes important in this type of discourse.
With this paradigm, we understand the theories and postulates about conflicts that are resource-based. The more strategic the resources, the more intense the conflict becomes. Attempts have been made to map the various conflicts in the world according to strategic resources that are found in specific geography. The conflict in Sudan, besides ethnicity and religions, is about oil and water – two very important strategic resources in Africa and the world.
At the heart of this paradigm is the classic threefold – source of conflict, that is, poverty, injustice and politic of exclusion. When one speaks of resources, he/she also asks the question who, ultimately, benefits from these resources? Division of resources of spoils often divides people between majority and minority, dominant and dominated, included and excluded and empowered and disempowered. In short, we are talking of injustice and politic of exclusion – whether real or imagined, hardly, makes a difference.
The last millennium saw countless territorial and geographical and religious wars in Europe. In the last century alone, two world wars were fought over geography. Thirty years ago, peoples of Europe strongly think along borderlines – Italy, Germany, France, etc. Twenty years ago, they fought and died over ideological differences of East and West symbolized by the Berlin Wall.
While wars and conflicts are still fought in other parts of the planet, like Asia and Africa, and part of the former East Europe, after two millennia of wars and conflict, a new consciousness is emerging. This consciousness leads to the understanding of mega nationality – European or continental and in the near future it would be planetary and galactic identity.
This new development, coupled by science fiction and non-fiction like the Star War Episodes, tells us of becoming “citizens” of the Universe while recognizing our planetary or galactic origins. I call this new development a “telescope paradigm”. There is the galaxy or the universe or the cosmos out there and we are only tiny, yet important, speck in the whole. This paradigm requires NOT the culture of isolation or exclusivism but the culture of connectivity and all-inclusiveness. In a smaller yet understandable concept, we are seeing, today, the collapse of borders and the emergence of mega nationalities and identity. While the resources are basic what we are seeing is the survival of the planet and our galaxy. Again in understandable terms, we speak of issues like global warming or climate change, care for the planet, dialogue and fellowship. We speak of mega nationality – like ASEAN or continental identity – Asia!
There are two big events that contribute to the emergence of this new paradigm. The first is the phenomenal melt down of glaciers somewhere near Greenland and big portion of the Antarctic. Then there is the reported surge of methane gas in the Antarctica that is a catastrophe in waiting. A few years ago (2007), religious leaders under the leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and scientists made a pilgrimage to Greenland to see the impact of climate change. They came and saw that the real threat to the planet is coming NOT in fifty or hundreds years from now but in our own lifetime – in fifteen to twenty years! Our planet earth will undergo drastic change akin to the destruction described in Genesis during Noah’s times. In fact, this would soon change our understanding of wars, conflicts and survival.
I believe that while we continue the peace talks, we begin locating the solutions to some of the intractable, identity-based conflicts beyond the limits of the present geopolitical landscape. What truly matters is not the question of this piece of land or that piece of body water – not the Muslim Mindanao or Bangsamoro, not this archipelago or that group of islands – but the survival of this planet and humankind.
It is in the light of the preceding discourse, that I believe the paramount importance of the seeming “uneventful” convergence of initiatives not only to introduce discussion and debates on climate change at the highest level of the UN but also to table at every Summit and Conference the agenda on climate change. The imperative of planetary survival and the urgency of forging new alliance for environment remain formidable challenges both to each member-state (religious, secular or otherwise) of the UN and to all. There is an urgent task to connect our national survival to planetary survival that must unite all our effort and strivings beyond the narrow confines of ethnicities and nationalities.
Faced with this formidable global challenge, there is, yet, another trajectory that invites humankind to dialogue and fellowship. The Planet Earth is, once again, menaced by violent extremism. We see, for the first time, a UN General Assembly debating peace and suvival and the importance of interreligious dialogue and intercultural cooperation.
The urgent call from these two seeming “uneventful” initiatives is an invitation to solidarity and partnership among the citizens of the planet earth.
In closing, I shall reiterate the urgency of the challenge of harnessing all our energy in the cause of peace and the survival of the planet. This is formidable and not for the faint of heart. Not only is this work is intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally draining, but it involves significant risks as well. Vested interests develop around every conflict that want to see that conflicts continue, and a number of inspired peacemakers have paid the ultimate price for their efforts: Mahatma Gandhi, Anwar Sadat, and Martin Luther King, Jr, to mention a few of the better known. Among the living, we point to people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Pope Francis. Despite the risks, however, and as climate change so powerfully illustrates, ecological engagement is a challenge we ignore at our peril.
We need to be able to decipher the wirings on the wall. I believe that we need to get our acts together behind the call for planetary survival and interreligious dialogue and intercultural cooperation in building a new world that is not only more peaceful equitable and just but also ecology friendly that would ensure the survival of the earth.