No peace without justice: Column

Peace as an enduring value can be achieved only when it is based on justice. All other options are doomed to fail

The late Anthony Shadid, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who died in 2012 from an asthma attack while covering the Syrian war, once noted that the one word that you would constantly hear wherever you go to the Middle East and the Muslim world is not democracy, civil rights or even freedom, but “justice.” This is not a random observation. It goes to the heart of the problem not only in Muslim lands but in the world as a whole. It reiterates the simple yet fundamental idea that there can be no peace, no order and no security without justice.

Take the Palestinian issue. It is the longest standing occupation of modern history. The saga of the Palestinian people has no equivalent in any other political conflict in the 20th century. Since 1948, countless initiatives have sought the resolve the conflict. Nations went to war over the issue. But no peace initiative ended the conflict. Why? Contrary to what the Israeli propagandists claim, it is not because the Palestinians and Arabs are not interested in peace or Israel has no peace partner. It is because the so-called peace proposals always lacked the core element of justice for the Palestinians. Partitioning Palestinian lands and depriving the Palestinians of their basic rights for the security of Israel cannot lead to a sustainable peace because it is not based on justice. An enduring peace will be possible if and only when the Palestinians are accorded their rights, treated equally and fairly. No security consideration or political urgency will change this fact.

The Syrian war is another case where a political solution will be possible only when it is based on justice for all. With the help of its allies, the Syrian regime may claim to have won the war. But this does not make it fair or legitimate. The regime’s shameless attempts to erase the Syrian opposition from the ground and from the negotiating table will not bring peace or stability to Syria. An enduring peace will be possible only when all Syrians are treated fairly and equally.

The same principle applies to the growing gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world. The fact that the current economic system makes the rich countries richer and keeps the poor in an endless abyss of poverty does not make the world a better place.

In the Islamic intellectual tradition, justice means “putting things in their rightful place.” It is to give everything its due. It is to recognize everyone’s right regardless of their status, ethnicity or religion. As a universal principle, it holds a society together. As a sociopolitical principle, it maintains order and stability.

In this broad sense, peace cannot be just absence of war because it is not enough to prevent conflict temporarily to reach peace. It has to have other elements that would make peace an enduring reality. What some scholars have called “positive peace” entails ethical and political principles by which peace can be lasting and produce security, stability and prosperity for all. This brings us back to the principle of justice, i.e., putting everything in its proper place and giving everything its due.

These were among the issues discussed at the second TRT World Forum held in Istanbul on Oct. 3-4 under the theme “Envisioning Peace and Security in a Fragmented World.” Gathering together world leaders and leading experts, the Forum sent a powerful message about peace, order, security and justice in an increasingly chaotic and disordered world. In his address at the closing session, President Erdogan underlined his firm belief in a peaceful world order based on justice. From the U.N.’s current structure and Turkey’s EU membership to the Syrian war and the Palestinian conflict, he outlined Turkey’s global peace diplomacy that seeks peace and justice not just for the powerful and the rich but for all nations of the world.

In this world of growing interdependence, no one is safe until everyone is safe. No single nation will enjoy prosperity in the full sense of the term until wealth is shared fairly. A world without justice cannot a safe place for anyone. It only produces more conflict and suffering. And it makes everyone unsafe and insecure.

Peace as an enduring value can be achieved only when it is based on justice. All other options are doomed to fail. The history of modern conflicts is a sad testimony to this simple fact.

*Ibrahim Kalin is the spokesperson for the Turkish presidency. (Published in Daily Sabah Turkish newspaper on October 6, 2018)