Creating a Peace Incentive
by Meg Lane
The path to peace is fostered through ‘education and learning.'
How do we create a peace incentive that opens the path for people to overcome the deeply rooted racial divide in the United States? More than 350 Soka Gakkai Internation for Peace, Culture and Education (SGI-USA) members and guests explored this question with Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad during the Culture of Peace Distinguished Speaker Series on Feb. 6 at the New York Culture Center. Among those in attendance were Dr. Betty Reardon, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee who is considered the mother of peace education, and Dr. Muhammad’s father, Ozier Muhammad, a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer for the New York Times.
Dr. Muhammad is an internationally renowned historian and scholar on the African American experience. In 2010, he succeeded Howard Dodson as director of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located in Harlem. As a national research library devoted to the preservation of materials related to the global African diaspora, the Schomburg Center sponsors programs and events that illuminate the richness of black history and culture.
Dr. Muhammad is also the author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America, which won the American Studies Association’s 2011 John Hope Franklin Publication Prize. At the heart of Dr. Muhammad’swork is his belief that society must embrace the truth of our history to create new social contracts, and that the path to peace is fostered through “education and learning, instead of punditry.” For example, he characterized society’s current attitude toward criminal punishment, with lengthy incarcerations and limited rehabilitation, as a measure of social control, in contrast to the 19th-century philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s belief that, “The purpose of punishment is to restore the criminal to their humanity.”
He discussed Jane Addams, a great reformer of the Progressive Era and the founder of Hull House in Chicago, who wrote about European immigrant slums in urban areas in her book The Spirit of Youth and The City Streets. Her belief was that youthful criminality is a natural expression of the “spirit of youthful adventure” and was symptomatic of the broken social contract, rather than the fault of the youth themselves or their parents. She believed that these suffering communities could be transformed through social services and the restoration of society’s sense of public responsibility. Dr. Muhammad commented that understanding her viewpoint is key to understanding the impact of her work.
Using the analogy of an oncologist who researches the origin of cancer and treats it, Dr. Muhammad proposed the concept of a “race oncologist” to thoroughly study the origins of racism and to battle against today’s anti-intellectual culture.
Dr. Muhammad said that as long as society values profit over people, humanity would not be able to advance. In the development of our modern culture, technological advances —whether the cotton gin, turn-of-the century factories or today’s gun culture—have sacrificed people for profit.
Dr. Muhammad later outlined three actions citizens can take to establish peace incentives and embrace a modern compassionate progressivism for the betterment of all:
- Education: Pay attention to scholarship, not punditry; study history to better understand our contemporary culture.
- Listening: Be willing to see the truth of the past with honest and open understanding.
- Philanthropy: Invest in organizations that are working to transform society.
The Culture of Peace speakers series commenced in 2007, with lecturers focusing on one or more of the eight action areas defined by the 1999 United Nations Declaration and Program of Action on a Culture of Peace. The series’ aim: to foster a culture that rejects violence and addresses the root causes of conflict through the power of dialogue.
The New York Culture of Peace Resource Center has hosted such speakers as economist Jeffrey Sachs, who authored the New York Times best-seller The End of Poverty, and Ishmael Beah, who published a firsthand account of the civil war in Sierra Leone, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.
Source: World Tribune, SGI-USA Publication; 1 March 2013.
This story was brought to our attention by CANI supporter, Michael Lisagor