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The Difficult Struggle for Peace

Often, people think that we live in a world where there is either peace or absence of peace. In war-torn countries like Syria or Afghanistan, one might assume a total absence of peace, while in a country like the United States, one might assume the opposite. However, peace, just like anything else, is a very nuanced subject that cannot be classified into such confining categories. Two more aptly named classifications are positive and negative peace. Sociologist Johan Galtung, a professor at Columbia University and the University of Oslo, defines positive peace as where, in addition to having no violence at all, there is no discrimination and bigotry. Put simply, everybody gets along with each other. Negative peace is where, even though there is an absence of violence, there is still structural violence, which as explained by Galtung, are forms of violence that cannot be seen, such as sexism, racism, socioeconomic status and homophobia [1]. Just because there is no physical violence, that does not mean there is no violence at all.

As much as people would like to think that there is positive peace in America, that is blatantly false. This cannot be shown more clearly than right now. Tension between African Americans and the police are at an all-time high right now, after many high-profile deaths like the ones of Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. If one walks down the streets in Ferguson, Missouri, there is not going to be any acts of physical violence between police and African Americans [2]. However, that does not mean there is going to be peace. The tension is still going to be there and so will the prejudice. African Americans still might be afraid of the police and the police might still be wary of African Americans. Another example is the way we treat people of different socioeconomic statuses. In the news, politicians such as Bernie Sanders say the rich keeps getting richer. He accuses people such as Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, as being extremely greedy for not giving his workers better pay, saying that Jeff Bezos is the face of greed [3]. Whether Sanders is right or not, this is another example of structural violence. It creates a divide between the two different types of people that can cause vengeance and hate. Often times, structural violence and negative peace is a harbinger for actual violence. One example of this is during 1930s Germany. Germany enacted the Nuremberg Laws which were a series of laws that were targeted towards the Jews. Even though it didn’t directly enable violence on the Jews, it was a foreshadow to what was going to happen in the very near future. Another example of how structural violence and negative peace lead to actual violence is the Rwandan Genocide. The Rwandan Genocide is a conflict that was started due to conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis. The ethnic tension between the two was almost palpable. For nearly the entire period of the Rwandan history, the Tutsis have dominated Rwanda. However, in 1993, the Hutus secured the Presidential victory although the Tutsis denied them the victory [4]. The Tutsis, in a coup, murdered the elected president. This was the catalyst that led to a massacre of over half a million Tutsi. However, it was not just the assassination of a leader that led to the massacre of over half a million people. It was because of decades of repression and discrimination that finally broke the straw and led to this genocide.

Even though it is impossible to completely eradicate structural violence, there are many things that people can do to combat and limit structural violence. One of the most important things that we have to realize is the fact that before being Republican or Democrat or Libertarian, we are first and foremost Americans. That means when there is a threat that threatens to divide us, we must combat that threat together. We have groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church who does not represent the values of any group. People from both ends of the political spectrum must come together to combat this. In the long run, hate and violence are not going to solve anything. Famed 14th century Persian poet Hafez once said “Even after all this time, the Sun never said to the Earth ‘You owe me’. Look what happens with a love like that” [5]. As quixotic as it may sound, this is true. Imagine what we can accomplish if we all work together.

A metaphor showing structural and direct violence. Link:

Demonstrators protesting police violence. Link:

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