The International Day of Peace is “celebrated” today. “Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future” is the theme chosen for this year.
To some this might sound like a utopian, naïve agenda. Isn’t it? Protests in many Muslim countries all over the world have turned violent. The US Ambassador to Libya and three members of his staff were killed in Benghazi. In Khartoum protesters attacked the German embassy although the film had been produced a man who is living in the US and who likely has an Egyptian background.
In Syria the battle between the insurgents and the Assad regime continues and in China protests against Japan have turned violent as well – because of a few uninhabitated islands (Yes, there is a large amount of natural resources under the seabed).
So isn’t the world becoming more and more violent? Shiite against Sunni people? Muslims against Christians? China against Japan? The West against the Rest?
To my mind, the media play an important role in stimulating this impression. Only bad news are good news. I don’t know how many reports I have seen that that deal with the situation in Syria – which is indeed important because the world has to know what’s going on in Syria. If all these killings would happen without anyone outside of Syria noticing it Assad and his regime could commit even worse and more atrocities.
But that’s not my point. If we only focus on what’s going wrong in the world it will be hard to improve anything. We have to pay more attention to the positive developments. When did you hear of non-violent elections in Africa? Is it because there are only elections that result in violent protests or do media only report about elections that turn violent? And do you remember a single report about a peace treaty in countries that have been plagued by civil war? It’s more exciting to report about the ongoing civil wars.
The Canadian psychologist Steven Pinker has argued that violence has steadily been on decline. In more complex societies the degree of violence is shrinking whereas the Middle Ages have been extremely violent. According to Pinker human beings have learned that empathy brings about advantages. But still, there are many people that believe we’re living in dangerous times.
Researchers in Israel have even found out that media reports of violence make patients feel more pain. And I would say that news filled with war, protests and criminal offences won’t make people agree with Pinker’s thesis: the world is getting more peaceful!
We should not only have peace on our mind on peace day. If people were aware of positive things happening around the world at least some of them wouldn’t become so cynical and fatalistic.