The Role of Diasporas in World Peace

Introduction to September 2008 IJWP

Globalization of the world’s economy and the migrations of people for political and economic reasons has caused a collision of cultures within nearly every country. While vast empires have historically been more pluralistic as they contain migrations of cultural groups from one part of an empire to another, twenty-first century migrations are impacting even the most homogeneous states.

German philosopher Karl Jaspers pioneered the idea of an “Axial Age” that occurred between 800 to 200 b.c.e., when the foundations that underlie current major civilizational spheres came into being:

Extraordinary events are crowded into this period. In China lived Confucius and Lao Tse, all the trends in Chinese philosophy arose… In India it was the age of the Upanishads and of Buddha; as in China, all philosophical trends, including skepticism and materialism, sophistry and nihilism, were developed. In Iran Zarathustra put forward his challenging conception of the cosmic process as a struggle between good and evil; in Palestine prophets arose: Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Deutero-Isaiah; Greece produced Homer, the philosophers Parmenides, Heraclitus, Plato, the tragic poets, Thucydides and Archimedes. All the vast development of which these names are a mere intimation took place in those few centuries, independently and almost simultaneously in China, India and the West.1

The axial age was an ancient period of globalization when ships explored the world and peoples of different tribes and civilizations interacted with one another in commerce and large urban seaports. Many tribal societies became absorbed by the cultures of these larger societies as they became members of ancient diasporas.

A number of thinkers believe the present time is an analogous period and have proposed that we are in a second axial age, where the main cultural spheres are now colliding with one another on a global scale. These developments have associated problems of minorities of one culture living in nation-states rooted in another culture. Protection of their rights and dignity often becomes an issue, as is their adjustment to the host society. Another problem is that the members of a diaspora can accumulate resources and power in their host society that can influence events in their homeland, including policy shaping or support for political revolution.

The members of a diaspora, standing between two cultural worlds, can help bring significant change in both the host country and the homeland. These changes can either lead to war or peace. For example, the current war in Iraq is partly the result of the influence of the Iraqi diaspora in the United States.

Our first article, by Bahar Baser and Ashok Swain of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University, looks at the possibilities for diasporas as peacemakers. They begin with an overview of the existing studies and the list of groups that are perceived as revolutionary or terrorist, those who seem to get all of the attention. Then they discuss how diasporas are leading to delocalizing, and globalizing, many of the conflicts in the world. With diasporas we do not have political conflicts between nation-states, but cultural conflicts in which political boundaries are transcended.

Diasporas do not necessarily lead to violence and evil, however. They can use their role as a peaceful bridge between their nation of origin and the larger world. In fact, our authors argue, diasporas can play a more constructive role in conflict resolution than neutral or independent third parties.

The second article takes a look at the Greek diaspora. The author, George Kaloudis, who previously wrote “Greeks of the Diaspora: Modernizers or an Obstacle to Progress” (IJWP, June, 2006), examines to what degree the Greek Diaspora continues to matter after many decades of interaction. He points to a more mature situation in which the Diaspora has accomplished both significant achievement in foreign states and has succeeded in aiding significant change in modern Greece as well. Reading his article, one might conclude that the case of the Greek Diaspora is well advanced into the “Second Axial Age,” where cultural transformations have occurred that make peaceful participation in world society more the norm than the exception to the rule.

The next article by Amit Kumar Gupta looks at the concept of “soft power” developed by political scientist Joseph Nye. He advocates the use of this soft power by the Indian diaspora in promoting cultural values through education and models of success rather than through the use of force, or “hard power,” that has been the norm of conquest and domination throughout human history. Gupta believes there is a grandeur in the soft power of the spiritual traditions in traditional India that can make India a world leader in peace and tolerance through example, rather than through force.

In Memory of Andrzej Werner
A portion of this issue is dedicated to our Editorial Board member Andrzej Werner who was tragically killed in an auto accident in Warsaw in October 2007. Dr. Werner was an avid chronicler of the nineteenth century Polish entrepreneur Jan Bloch, who donated a decade of his life and a portion of his wealth to the promotion of world peace. Peter van den Dungen, the world’s foremost compiler of bibliographic data on peace studies before the twentieth century, has written a testimony and dedicated a bibliography on the works of Jan Bloch to the memory of Dr. Werner. Professor Nicholas Kittrie, a Senior Editor of IJWP, dedicates his article “The International Law of War and America’s War on Terrorism,” to his long-time colleague and friend. This article investigates the use and function of international law in the case of transnational, non-state actors. The U.S. rationale for the detention of Al Qaeda “terrorists” and the challenges posed to human rights have not been sufficiently addressed by international law.

1. Jaspers, Karl. Way to Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1951. Cited in New World Encyclopedia, “Axial Age.”

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