Nobel laureates talk peace

Hundreds had a chance to converse with six Nobel peace laureates at the World Peace Conference, held in the Smith Center at Portland State, which brought together the laureates and workers for world peace Tuesday, coinciding with the visit of the Dalai Lama.

The Conference began at 12:30 p.m., ran into the early evening and included a panel discussion by the laureates tackling some of the contemporary world’s affronts to peace. When asked what panel members thought was the most common cause of war, Betty Williams, co-founder of Peace People and a 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her efforts in achieving peace in Northern Ireland, was quick to speak up.

Injustice, she said, has been one of the primary reasons for fighting in her country. The conflict in Northern Ireland, she said, heavily involved every citizen in the region, and they all felt victims of injustice. “Government will never see what is on its doorstep; they will ignore it until it is in their living room.”

Dr. Robert Musil, the executive director for Physicians for Social Responsibility, added that the tendency to create an “other,” an abstract enemy, also leads to conflict and war.

Citing the experiences of veterans who have met their enemies after wartime, Musil said that “without fear, prejudice and cultural misunderstanding,” it would be much more difficult to engage citizens in war against neighbors. “We must reach out and talk to our neighbors,” he said.

Adolfo Perez Esquivel, an Argentine human rights activist, emphasized the impact of economic power and arms manufacturing on war, noting that the United States supplies many countries with weaponry to fuel conflicts.

Esquivel also said that war happens because “too many people believe they own the truth and try to impose their truth on others.”

On cultivating and maintaining optimism, Venerable Lhakdor, religious advisor to the Dalai Lama, emphasized that compassion, love and a productive use of human intellect can dismantle destructive forces.

By far the most difficult subject broached by the panel surrounded peace in the Middle East and a resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Many of the panel members were hesitant to engage the topic, but Dr. Helen Caldicott, co-founder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, spoke up. “God only knows,” she said. “And that’s the truth.”

Williams explained that much of her ancestry is Jewish and many of her family members were killed during the Holocaust as a result. “But whatever my heritage, God forgive Israel for what she is doing to the Palestinians,” she said.

Williams continued, saying that world governments, like the United States, have to be willing to tell Israel that they are wrong, rather than “supporting them with a blind eye.”

“Every people has a right to their own self-determination, meaning both Israel and Palestine,” Esquivel said. He added, however, that Israel “cannot continue a policy of persecution and extermination against Palestine.”

Engaging the issue of commercialism and its effects on inner peace, Esquivel quoted a Chinese proverb: “If you wish to build peace in the world, you must have peace in your village; to have peace in your village, you must have peace in your family; to have peace in your family, you must have peace in yourself.”

To do this, Esquivel said that individuals must develop a sense of respect for “other worldly inhabitants” and a critical awareness about the world in which we live.

By saying that 90 percent of the cartoons many children watch contain at least one scene of violence and that every child between the ages of four and 18 are exposed to over 40,000 scenes of violence, Equivel asked, “What kind of critical awareness of our world is being created?”

Musil added that he does not feel we give young people enough credit or preparation to continue peace work. “We must pass our peace on to young people,” he said, noting that many of the most active and powerful advocates for world peace are young adults and children.

The last issue raised to the panel was that of women in power. Citing that most church and government leaders are men, the question asked, “How can we model a different kind of power for women?”

Dr. William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International-USA, was quick to respond: “Men do not need to model power to women; many women have modeled power for me.” He also reminded the audience that the gender of a person does not necessarily make them just.

Caldicott echoed Shulz’s statement, but added that women need a greater voice in world politics. “Thirty percent is the magic number,” she said. “When women make up less than 30 percent of representation, they tend to support issues raised by men. It is only when women constitute over 30 percent that they begin addressing issues traditionally ignored by men, like child care, health care and the like.”

Former Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield offered closing remarks, expressing his pride for Oregonians and their willingness to act as peacemakers. Hatfield urged the audience to battle for those on the “outskirts of social, economic and political power” in Oregon and around the world. “You represent the real power to carry these ideals into our daily lives,” he said.

The conference concluded with a short video of His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking at the Hilton hotel earlier in the afternoon, in which he stressed the importance of using technological advances to make human life better. “No matter what our science and technology, we are still the same persons,” he said. “Only human nature can create emotion.”