Book Review: A New Beginning for Humankind, Dr. Chris Eigbike

A New Beginning for Humankind – A Recipe for Lasting Peace on Earth
--- by Dr. R. B. Herath
A Commentary by Dr. Osahon Chris Eigbike

Introduction: The notion of remaking humanity or re-charting its new beginning is very old and familiar. Paul B. Campbell and Peter Howard of Moral Re-armament (a moral and spiritual movement renamed Initiatives of Change) captured it in their book, Remaking Man. Through music, the Jamaican reggae star, Jimmy Cliff, rendered it in, Remake the World and John Lennon did so in a more sublime and philosophical term, Imagine. Dr. Martin Luther King put it in a related philosophical tone, I have a Dream! Other semantic variations of the notion are healing the earth, re-making the human heart, and conquering the human beast... And when all carefully psycho-analyzed, the message is about averting humanity’s own self-destruction in the light of the tension between its deep love for life (desire to live) and its hate for anything standing in the way (fear and self-preservation). Love, hate and fear are thus dangerous energies because in the careless actions associated with them, they are a recipe for disaster... Here, an interesting word-play on disaster which reads dis-aster, is fitting – for it means something that has been separated from stellar values, including, very sadly, well-intended actions. The notion of remaking humanity is therefore not a shallow one; it is deep, requiring a surrealist exploration.

Analysis: Dr. R. B. Herath’s linking of lasting peace on earth with a new beginning for humankind as bedfellows is a powerful stirring of that surrealism. On this endearing invitation to discernment and reconstruction of the book’s embedded messages hinges my commentary. For example, religion’s stand on new beginning vis a vis peace also holds this link. Christians refer to Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace and Muslims solemnly say Peace unto Him when they voice the name of Prophet Mohammed. The Muslim greeting Salaam Aleikum, is a peace line – and so is the Jewish greeting Shalom Aleikhem. The Quakers or Religious Society of Friends are well-known for their quietist-peace stand. As the non-violent work of the Dalai Lama shows, Buddhism is equally big on the place of peace in our world. In the secular world, Governments and their related institutions talk about peace in ceremonial packaging as in their honouring of distinguished people and citizens with Peace Awards. The Nobel Peace Prize is an example here. Many a Non-Government Organization (NGO) is either operating on peace philosophy or themes thereof. Therefore, as the yearning for life and peace is deep and desperate, no voices on the subject are ever in excess. Dr. R. B. Herath’s work is thus a needed additional voice.

Calm in delivery, yet incisive, the book conveys both the simplicity and humility of Dr. Herath’s own personality and his deep desire to see a peaceful humanity. This combination of attributes is noteworthy about the work... Whereas there is some iconic side to the average name or group historically associated with peace advocacy (as seen from the above paragraph), Dr. Herath is an ordinary and simple person, but with the same strong passion for the cause. Thus, one important highlight is that he invites humanity as simple and ordinary people to the task of peace-building on earth. For the truth is that it is from the masses of ordinary people that icons emerge. That is to say, peace building is not the exclusive task of some iconic persons, people or organization; it ought to be rooted in the masses of ordinary people. It should be one of total and diligent dedication in every ordinary way... and we are all the better for it. This is the message ringing through the intent and ideas of Dr. Herath in the book.

Historical, the book goes back in time to remind us of humanity’s long trail in violence globally. Drawing attention to wars across continents, it gives a succinct summary of the so-called major ones, leaving the readers to spot in their own localities, the so-called lesser but equally disturbing ones. For example, his reference to the Biafra War (of my heritage country Nigeria) got me thinking of the not-so-popular violent events I know there... The Owegbe violence in my locality of the early fifties that claimed and maimed many lives is a case in point. That is to say, one has to ponder whether there are actually minor wars when, like major ones, they all violate the sanctity of human lives. Thus understood, a new reflection on the book’s reference to the horrors of Hiroshima-Nagasaki, Rwanda-Burundi, as well as Pol Pot’s Cambodia should point to the escalating potential in any war.

Contemporary, the reader sees through it how violence and news of it daily surround us globally and regionally. In the Middle East as a region, violence is, sadly, a synonym for people’s daily life! The picture is the same for the India-Pakistan region – and the Korean peninsula conveys the same tension again and again. Every other region has its share of violence... Who would have thought that an endearing Marathon Event would be the target of bomb blasts on innocent people, as we saw in Boston on April 15, 2013? Furthermore, the book prophetically alerts us to the grimness of a tomorrow that is precariously in the thick shadow of a nuclear disaster. What, with the competitive proliferation of nuclear weapons today! Only the United States of America had nuclear capability in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki saga; today, every regional and aspiring-regional power does.

Together, the three dimensions, past, present and future, tickle us to an urgent sobriety about what we all need to do as simple, ordinary people to build a culture of peace on earth. To underscore this urgency, the book openly warns that the next war will be fought with nuclear weapons – and leaves us to reflect why we want to toy with a repeat of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obviously at a higher level in sophistication and universal application. It wakes us up to outside-the-box thinking – which is a decided active listening to the information around us. This resolve to actively listen is needed to dim the culture of forgetting and of complacency that has become a living template for increased violence and wars. In this regard, it is interesting how experts quickly surface in droves and frenzy whenever violence strikes. From the media, law enforcements, legislative assemblies, religious establishments, universities, military intelligence and research centres – busy but belated “super theories” are rolled out about violence. Oddly, some reek of social entertaining! And then, slowly, they forget; back to business as usual...

Today, the culture of forgetting and of complacency is behind the strong support for war by a growing number of Mennonites who are a non-violent religious people popularly known as Anabaptists. Sounds like a hypothetical story of some tribal descendants from Gandhi or Dalai Lama embracing violence and war! The deeper truth about the Mennonites is that they once fled the violence and war of Stalinism. But with a complacent forgetting of that ugly past robbing them of their heritage attachment to peace value, many of them see nothing wrong with war today. The same complacent forgetting is behind many a European fleeing the Huguenot massacre for South Africa, only to be complicit in the violent system of Apartheid. Dr. Herath tickles us to a critical questioning of this culture of forgetting and complacency – so that the necessary sobriety and commitment about peace can kick into our consciousness.

Furthermore, a resolve for active listening will make all of us the true partners and friends we are to governments in governance and thus on peace commitment. This relationship is needed to fill the gaps in our society within which violence easily thrives. An isolated International Peace Day put together by the United Nations is a catalyst for a culture of forgetting. Imagine Peace Study as part of our regular educational system. This is what most congruently speaks to our one common love for life as it alerts us to our careless tendencies lurking in fear and hate about the obstacle to it. Such a systematic study will build on the discerning works of writers, musicians, storytellers and philosophers for peace. And it will respond to children as unsung prophets – caught up in, and often destroyed in a culture of non-listening... Before the Boston Marathon Bombings, the following words were expressed in a deep kinder-artwork by a young Martin Richard: No More Hurting People...Peace. Prophetically, that was the spirit of peace and life talking to a non-listening world through a little boy – seeking to fill the gaps in peace talk and commitment. Young Martin was later to be killed in the bomb blast. Clearly, he was a prophet and a philosopher; his words echo in Dr. R. B. Herath’s book.

Active listening will also correct the false consciousness of a group about its invincibility on account of higher equipping in weaponry in relation to another party. What does it really mean to eliminate an enemy? How neatly wrapped-up or contained is such a strategic projection? Here, I think of the simplistic projection to get rid of Saddam Hussein and tidy up Iraq. From all evidence now one can only think of its folly... How many lives has the strategy claimed, maimed or traumatized? How many new enemies has the strategy created within and outside Iraq? Thus, in view of the seed for elastic destruction – and the possible extermination of humanity embedded in higher equipping in weaponry to destroy the enemy, how very intelligent is the strategy? Clearly, with the UN’s inability to halt arms build-up in all nations – rich or poor – the message has not really got any active listening thus far. Add this piece to the ritualism of its isolated International Peace Day – and Dr. Herath’s idea to reform or replace the organization with a new body sinks in deeply... Active listening will see the broader danger to humanity in this business as usual of higher equipping arms race to deal with the enemy – the epic psychosis of repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Active listening will sober us to deal with the enmity within – namely the tension between fear and love in us. Active listening will tame greed which begets exploitation and its attendant identity politics of one group ganging up against another around an economic self-interest. A change of heart is urgent. The world has enough for everybody’s need but not enough for everybody’s greed, said Gandhi.

Conclusion: Dr. Herath’s work deposited a good dose of sobriety in all its readers about the oddity of humanity’s love for life – while it sees its attainment in the destruction of some parts of itself... It is the oddity of auto-immune disease: a pathological scenario of anti-bodies destroying some cells in the body in the face of their duty to preserve them. It is called pemphigoid in medical language – an ugly term that fittingly conveys the whole oddity! It is an unfortunate crossroad about humanity. Only a commitment to peace at the level of ordinary daily living can resolve the anomaly. In its message that we can all embrace that commitment, the book is a must-read for the appropriate equipping. Otherwise, a world so deep in regional and global volatility can only end up with the fate of the dinosaurs, or a sorely denatured system.

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