Shreesh Juyal and John Duncan, eds. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017.
Shreesh Juyal and John Duncan’s Peace Issues in the 21st Century Global Context is an urgently needed book. The discussion in Canada of the connected issues of peace, human rights, and social justice is horribly polarized. It tends to be dominated by self-serving business interests, including arms manufacturers, and ill-informed ideologues that propagate American conspiracy theories. The thoughtful essays in this collection are a needed antidote.
One of the most hopeful chapters is Saul Arbess and Balwant Bhaneja’s, “Towards a Department of Peace in Canada.” They note that such an institution—already successfully instituted in Costa Rica, Nepal and the Solomon Islands—is needed in Canada, as only an agency of the government can competently “stand up for human dignity, to prevent unnecessary loss of innocent lives at home and abroad, and to decrease and end the waste of taxpayers’ funds on military ventures.”
What makes Arbess and Bhaneja’s account poignant is their description of the failure so far of the movement to create a Department of Peace, despite the support for it by the then-leader of the federal opposition, Michael Ignatieff. He lost his own seat in a right-wing backlash that resulted in the election of the majority government of Stephen Harper, whose policies are properly excoriated in by Peter Langille’s essay.
Langille’s “Peace Research and Education: Under Siege?” presents a comprehensive exposé of the simplistic way that Harper shifted Canadian foreign policy toward arms production and militarism. Among the most targeted were Christian-based peace groups such as Kairos, which Ignatieff attempted to defend based on its contact with actual conditions in conflict zones.
Another target was the Mennonite Church. They were formally warned by the Canada Revenue Agency that their charitable status was endangered “if one of their magazines continued to publish partisan criticisms of Canadian government policies.”
During the same time when Harper warred against the churches, his government had the Department of National Defence (DND) pour in millions to make universities support its hawkish agendas. This was done through funding the Security and Defence Forum, which gave major grants to Canadian universities. Langille witnessed directly the impact of these funds through his contact with professors during his graduate school studies. One frankly told him, “With no other funds, of course we have to prostitute ourselves.”
Attempts to weaken the government’s capacity to encourage democratization efforts in repressive dictatorships were another hallmark of the Harper era. This, Langille explains, was accomplished by the closure” of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development.
The importance of Canada having a capacity to encourage democratization through nonviolent means emerges in Sara Skinner’s essay, “Sudan and South Sudan: A Different Relationship is Possible.” Skinner describes how the two states have been unable to make the compromises necessary to secure an enduring peace since South Sudan’s independence in 2011. She contrasts this with a relatively happier outcome for East Timor and Indonesia.
The Indonesian military invaded and then occupied East Timor shortly before it was to achieve independence from Portugal. This brutal occupation was to last 14 years, ending in 1999. Although pro-Indonesia militias created havoc in the immediate wake of the August 1999 independence referendum, international peacekeepers—including Canadian police officers and civilians—succeded in bringing calm to East Timor within a relatively short time.
Critical to achieving long-term success was that both Indonesia and East Timor were, and are still, committed to remain “on the path towards full democracy,” notes Skinner.Peace Issues is a book that deserves to be read by Canadian peace activists. It is full of important suggestions that deserve more attention, notably Abraham Weizfeld’s suggestion of a federal union between Israel and Palestine.
Reviewed by John Bacher, a St. Catharines-based peace activist, writer, and researcher.