Inter Press Service
On the International Day of Peace, Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka visited the United Nations – and called for armed intervention against the terrorist group Boko Haram in his home country of Nigeria.
“This is a violent organisation,” Soyika told IPS. “What do you do with them? I am sorry, but you must fight them.”
On Sep. 21, 2012 the International Day of Peace was celebrated with a debate about how to build a global culture of tolerance. Invited to participate were such superstars as actor Forest Whitaker, economist Jeffrey Sachs, and Wole Soyinka, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.
After his speech, Soyinka spoke to IPS about the situation in his native Nigeria, where the Islamist militant group Boko Haram is responsible for thousands of deaths and the bombings of several churches in Nigeria in recent years. The group seeks to establish sharia law in the country. Their presence is particularly strong in the north of the country.
“We have an organisation which closes down schools, shoots faculty teachers, knocks out children and turns most of the north into an educational wasteland. How can we reach the children there? We must first get rid of Boko Haram,” Soyinka lashed out.
“We have a contradiction,” he acknowledged. “How do we get rid of Boko Haram? Violence must become involved. That is a dilemma.”
Calling for armed intervention on Peace Day may certainly seem like a paradox. But Soyinka’s call for attacking Boko Haram in order to stop the group’s attacks on schools made more sense after Friday’s debate, where speaker after speaker highlighted the importance of education to enable a global culture of peace to grow.
As stipulated in the 1999 Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, the United Nations’ primary goal is to “create and maintain world peace” through economic, social and political agreements, and in the worst cases through military intervention.
In order for such a framework to succeed, a foundation of peace and a culture of tolerance must to be built. A cornerstone in building this culture is inculcating respect for others in children.
“The real weapon of mass destruction is ignorance,” said British-Iranian philanthropist Nasser David Khalili, one of the speakers during the event to emphasise the importance of schooling building a culture of peace. “The solution must be education.”
Another important point came from Jeffrey Sachs, professor of sustainable development at Columbia University. “As an economist it strikes me… how hunger and poverty are incendiary parts of war,” Sachs said. In the Sahel region of Mali this summer, for example, a famine sparked conflict between nomads and farmers over access to water.
Sachs drew attention to the fact that critical issues such as these receive too little attention, describing the great frustration he felt as he failed to raise money from the World Bank on behalf of Mali. “Shout Al-Qaeda, and you get millions for missiles. But try to do something preventive, and you do not get anything.”
He urged global leaders to invest in “development rather than military”. Globally, “we are spending more than 10 times more on the military than we do on development,” Sachs said. “In the U.S. the rate is 30 to one.”
U.N. Women‘s Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri continued with the theme of social justice in order to achieve peace, highlighting the importance of including women in poverty eradication programmes. “Women bear the brunt of poverty,” Lakshmi said.
After her speech, Lakshmi told IPS that it is important to remember that even religious freedom has its limits, in reference to the use of religion as an excuse for acts of violence. “We believe that no religion sanctions, or in any way justifies, violations of human rights and women’s rights,” she stressed.
Film star and UNESCO goodwill ambassador Forest Whitaker concluded the event. “We must never believe that it is right to inflict pain against others, even if we do not agree with them,” he said.
Becky Bergdahl is a contributor to Inter Press Service.