We Need More Than a “False Peace”

August 28th, 2017

Today is the 54th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s famous March on Washington and his iconic I Have a Dream speech. His words never fail to move people – even many who have no connection with the U.S. or with the African American experience.

The unveiling of a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta.

The unveiling of a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta today. (Photo: Twitter)

Browsing through Twitter this morning, I noted some comments from Dr. King’s daughter, Bernice. She was making a speech at the unveiling of a statue of her father at Georgia’s State Capitol today. Ms. King observed:

False peace = mere absence of tension WITHOUT the presence of justice. I encourage you to study my father’s teachings. #MLK#IHaveADream54

This sparked a few thoughts in my head, and a little echo from a line in one of Peter Tosh’s most famous songs:

Everyone is crying out for peace, yes/No one is crying out for justice

I don’t want no peace/I need equal rights and justice

In other words, you can’t have one without the other.

How does this apply to our situation in Jamaica? We are currently responding in different ways to our spiralling crime levels – especially murders.

Sometimes it is a simple fear, for oneself, one’s family, one’s future; in particular if one is living in an area where crime is prevalent. Middle-class Jamaicans, too, are making extra sure their doors and windows are locked, while they are imprisoned inside. This is fear coupled with claustrophobia, perhaps, shutting oneself in.

Sometimes it is resignation – mixed with growing cynicism. Nothing ever changes. Nothing will change. We Jamaicans are a violent people. We just have to live with it, and all the crime plans in the world won’t fix it, because we are wicked.

The “wicked” part ties in with those of a religious bent, of course. If Jamaicans (all of us) repent of our sins, then all will be well. If not…then we are resigned to our fate. Another excuse to do nothing.

Sometimes, worst of all, it is the cynicism. Once we have reached that stage, it’s hard to change anything; it will not work.

Yet, many Jamaicans are still searching for peace. Many – like the Peace Management Initiative, Jamaicans for Justice, Children First, youth volunteer groups, numerous community-based organisations – are doing whatever is in their capabilities to do. Often it is all beyond their capabilities, but they still work hard for real peace. These are the groups that, ironically, often get pointed out by the kiss-teethers and the shoulder-shruggers on their verandahs as “not doing enough.”

But they are doing. They have to keep on doing.

Well, who is advocating for peace – real peace? Some church leaders are trying. Civil society advocates are grappling with finding the right approach. However, it seems “peace with justice” is somehow a hard sell.

“We are willing to give up some of our human rights for a reduction in crime and a peaceful society,” many declare on social media. Oh yes, really? Will the deprivation of the human rights that our ancestors fought for really result in a more truly peaceful society? Just think about it.

The opposite is really true. I believe we need a more caring, empathetic society, with the guardians of our security – the police, soldiers, politicians – and we ourselves fully embracing principles of human rights, justice, integrity, fairness, compassion, non-discrimination. This is the only way our society will heal, while those who are entrusted with the task seek to restore law and order. We may not get it right all the time, but this must be our framework, our foundation for “real peace.”

Bernice King’s words also reminded me that, in an attempt perhaps to make his teachings more palatable, people are drawn to a gentler, “watered down” version of Dr. King. In fact, he was often militant and quite uncompromising in his words, while always non-violent in his actions. He certainly did not want a fake peace, and he spoke about justice in the same breath.

Yes, peace is a funny word, isn’t it? It can be a very passive thing. Nothing is happening, all is quiet, everything is in order. But if all those small actions of cruelty, disrespect and divisiveness remain, just under the surface… then that is, indeed, a “false peace.”

We already have fake news, everywhere. So much of what we absorb daily in the media is pretence and foolishness. The last thing we need is a “peace” with no foundation.

Today, the King Center shared two interesting tweets:

Study and quote #MLK to facilitate justice and true peace, not to maintain order as a form of false peace. Injustice is never in order.

and:

Be open to understanding the “interconnectedness” of humanity. Think higher than one group “winning,” How can humanity win? #IHaveADream54

Ah yes – humanity.

Let’s stick to what we know is right, and work towards real peace. Here are Dr. King’s words on that “interconnectedness”:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Bernice King, CEO of the King Center at the statue of Dr. King in Washington, DC.

Bernice King, CEO of the King Center at the statue of Dr. King in Washington, DC.

 

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