As our commitment to our shared humanity wavers, the middle ground upon which compromise, and co-existence are possible vanishes.
Issue 36, War
When we began planning for this issue earlier in 2023, we had in mind the many wars that were continuing but had dropped off the news cycle. When war erupts, we experience a surge of emotions – rage, sadness, pity, condemnation. But when the violence isn’t in our immediate vicinity, we humans have a remarkable ability to forget the horrors of war, perhaps due to self-preservation (life must go on), or because the war “over there” concerns “other” people.
During much of 2023, news provided updates on the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia. Some critics have drawn attention to the fact that western nations have been more sympathetic to Ukrainians than to war-torn Syrians. Indeed, most westerners associate the civil war in Syria with the massive refugee crisis, which brought victims of war to our front doors and into our communities. Sympathy soon morphed into anti-immigration fervor.
But do we remember that the Syrian Civil War resulted not only in four million people fleeing the country, many still languishing in refugee camps, but also millions more who were internally displaced, and at least 470,000 deaths? How many remember where the deadliest war of our 21st century occurred? The Second Congo War (1998–2003) resulted in an estimated three million, mostly civilians, killed or died from disease and starvation. The U.S. termed the War in Darfur as the first genocide in the 21st century. Involving rebel groups and Sudanese forces, it has resulted in at least 300,000 casualties and nearly three million people displaced due to targeted terrorism and ethnic cleansing.
Then there’s Afghanistan and Iraq. After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, the deadliest on U.S. soil, the U.S. began its “war on terrorism” with attacks on Afghanistan, toppling the Taliban and extending into the occupation of Afghanistan and a 13-year-long war. In 2003, the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq — a war built on blatant falsehoods. These events reshaped the twenty-first century just as it had begun. Virulent war propaganda and misinformation continue to drive nations to unjust wars.
Some of these early 21st century wars have ended, although the damage persists in myriad ways. But many more violent conflicts are ongoing. In January 2023, the United Nations reported that there are more armed conflicts going on now than since World War II. The Geneva Academy states it is tracking 110 active armed conflicts.
Despite the fickleness of news media, we felt a strong need to remember and acknowledge the ongoing violence around the world that is actively causing damage to families, children, communities, and futures. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that people are still being displaced and killed; that children are being recruited into armed warfare; that there are still refugee camps bursting at the seams; that desperate refugees are dying in the Mediterranean and the desert; and that war propaganda and false narratives continue to fuel the fires of hate and violence.
That was before October 7, 2023.
Abruptly the world changed again, and the topic of WAR felt horrifyingly prescient. Violent conflict in Israel/Palestine is not new, but this one felt different. For days, it felt as if the rest of the world stood still. Like many, we were glued to the news, paralyzed as we attempted to make sense of a fluid and utterly senseless situation. Even though this violence is taking place in a specific location, its meanings reverberate throughout disparate communities and lives – causing grief and anger but also troubling backlash with a rise in violence and harassment against Jews and Muslims in many communities. The rhetoric has been markedly polarizing, forcing people to take sides. Those wanting to be in the middle are being torn apart. Propaganda about AI generated images of the dead has compounded confusion and suspicion, leading people to distrust even the reports given by bona fide journalists and political leaders. War isn’t only about those in the line of fire.
Our issue on “War” includes articles about Israel/Palestine. One of them was written after October 7. These articles offer important insights into aspects of the Israel/Palestine conflict, including a raw current wrestling with these events. Retrospective analyses of this dire situation will require the passing of more time.
Shuddhashar’s special ‘War’ issue examines war in its sundry expressions. Articles investigate why wars continue to be waged despite the destruction they bring in their wake. What and whose purposes do they serve? For the victims of war, are reparations owed and how would that be determined? What solutions do pacifists offer to our increasingly violent world? Many of our articles focus on aspects of war in specific places, such as Yemen, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Ukraine, Bangladesh, and of course Israel/Palestine. These articles reveal that the world refuses to learn lessons from war.
At the same time, the political spectrum in many parts of the world has shifted further towards the extreme right, raising the volume of calls for hate and violence. Wars within national communities and between social groups have become more frequent. Although violent crime and mass shootings are of tremendous concern today, our issue focuses on wars between and within countries and the language of war used to describe societal “battles.”
The discourse on social media and news outlets often takes on the language of war in everyday contexts: war on drugs, war on COVID-19, war on vaccines, war against “woke” education, war on abortion rights, war on trans rights, ad infinitum. The discourse depicts immigrants as dangerous and warns of an invasion at our borders. The rhetoric of war, often associated with extremist groups and authoritarian leaders, is increasingly being co-opted by our elected leaders. As polarization, suspicion, and fear come to define our contemporary societies, war rhetoric is readily erupting into real-life violent acts. Several of our contributors write about these wars within our national borders, revealing the ways in which war rhetoric has led to legitimate fear – fear for one’s job, safety, and even one’s lives. Sadly, one of our regular contributors and colleague became unable to write a planned article about the war on immigration in the UK, where the anti-immigration rhetoric is a regular assault. In today’s world, we can no longer flippantly claim that “words will never hurt us.”
As we consider how war and war rhetoric are woven into our contemporary lives, it is imperative that we also take a broader view of the forces that have led to violent conflict today. Economic inequality and Western imperialism stand out as two major drivers of global violence. These issues are intrinsically linked to capitalism, the nation-state system, and the persistent legacy of colonial ambitions and settler colonialism, all of which have sown the seeds of discord by fueling inequality. Violence rarely erupts when people are have equitable access to necessities and a quality of life.
Within this geopolitical landscape, Western powers, notably the U.S., are resolute in safeguarding their hegemonic positions and preventing the rise of competing nations such as China and Russia. In order to create strategic alliances to further their interests, they actively insert themselves in regional conflicts, thus perpetuating the cycle of violence. The U.S. and other Western nations have been involved in Iran and Israel for decades, often driven by strategic interest in maintaining influence in the Middle East. These forces of inequality and Western imperialism are deeply entrenched in the global system, ensuring that the flames of conflict continue to burn.
Moreover, war and the threat of war define national priorities. The military budgets of existing, nascent, and aspiring global and regional superpowers far outstrip their combined budgets for healthcare, education, and climate change solutions, increasing the urgency to justify such senseless spending by causing more senseless slaughter. We live in a world where selling arms is a more important value than the wellbeing of citizens and the earth.
This is an issue on war in its various destructive forms in our world and our societies. As we see when we look around the world today, it appears we don’t learn much from history. It is therefore all the more urgent that we reassess our national priorities and global order.
This Shuddhashar FreeVoice issue on WAR is a call to action to bring forth a humanist, pacifist, progressive world order.