Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – At the invitation of the Perdana Peace Foundation, I spent the week attending their Global Peace Forum.
The foundation was started by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia, who was also the keynote speaker at the event.
The conference was attended by approximately 2,000 people from dozens of nations. The speakers included antiwar hero Daniel Ellsberg, antinuclear activist Helen Caldicott, outspoken British MP George Galloway, Iraq war veteran Jimmy Massey, Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and former UN officials Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday.
Antiwar.com editorial director Justin Raimondo and myself were among the featured speakers. The event was financed entirely by corporate and NGO sponsors, including top Asian companies, as well as a few Western companies like Dell Computer and Nestle.
There was extensive media coverage in the Asian world, but there was no evidence of Western journalists in attendance.
The forum made a commitment to form a world peace secretariat that will be based in Kuala Lumpur. Antiwar.com will be very involved in the secretariat.
"Give People the Right to Veto War"
The key message of the forum was that democracy means giving citizens the right to decide whether their own countries initiate war.
Malaysian Defense Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak questioned why countries claiming to be democratic never sought the views of their own citizens before going to war. Perhaps it is high time to allow intelligent voters in democratic countries to exercise their veto each time their government decides to go to war outside their own borders.
Most of the speakers made it clear that we cannot look to politicians to stop wars. It is up to the citizens of every country to bypass and overrule their politicians and withdraw their support for politicians, corporations, and media that support war, and to give their enthusiastic support for those that do push for alternatives.
Dr. Mahathir said that voters in democratic countries should commit to voting out all "war-loving leaders." “As most warmongers are elected to office in many democratic countries, peace therefore must be made the main issue in all democratic elections everywhere.” Dr. Mahathir said election candidates must be made to declare their stand on peace and be made to reject war totally. “If they don’t, then they should get no votes. Peace-lovers must make sure that these people will be defeated always,” he added.
Toward a Single-Focus, Broad-Based Antiwar Movement
A very encouraging sign was the commitment of the leaders to focus strictly on opposition to war and imperial aggression. This is in stark contrast to much of the leadership of U.S. antiwar groups, which have a tendency to narrow outreach by incorporating other issues into their activities. A forum subcommittee issued a 14-point program that focuses on the immorality of wars of aggression. It was made clear that this was just a guiding set of principles, and that full endorsement is not a requirement for participation. Dr. Mahathir said the forum participants were at liberty to adopt whatever methods they found appropriate to ensure that the message of peace would be promoted effectively.
Conference organizer Matthias Chang made it clear that a multi-issue movement is doomed to fail. "A broad-based, single-focus movement is the only way we can succeed. We need to bring together the Left and Right, and all those who seek peace as an alternative to resolving international conflicts." Chang said his personal philosophy is a libertarian one, and he is a great admirer of the works of the late Murray Rothbard. Chang and Dr. Mahathir support a return to the gold standard in Asia to protect against the fiat money systems of the West.
The foreign policy of the U.S. was singled out as the worst violator of national sovereignty and human rights, but the mood was far from anti-American. Most speakers referred to American values as examples to the world, but condemned President Bush and both major U.S. political parties for their insistence that all other nations must follow their world agenda.
Najib made it clear that the forum was not advocating nations relinquishing the right to self-defense. "Every country has the right to self-defense, to protect life and property within its own borders. But in the absence of a world government or a willingness to surrender rights to a regional grouping, national sovereignty must remain sacrosanct and be the basis of interstate conduct."
Najib called for alternatives to combat the scourge of terrorism. "If we choose to bomb terror into submission, we will fail. If we choose to respond to their hatred with more of our own, we will fail."
On a personal note, I have never been so encouraged by such an event. The people of Malaysia love and admire Americans and American values. They do seem quite perplexed by the conflict between these values and the actions of U.S. leaders. It was difficult for them to comprehend how such a strong majority of Americans now oppose the war in Iraq, yet there is no desire among most U.S. politicians to leave. They were most discouraged by the fact that the front-runners for the presidential nominations of both political parties support increasing the U.S. presence in Iraq.
An Unwelcome Guest
One controversy that emerged was the surprise attendance of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe has been engaged in an outrageous and inexplicable war against the poor of his nation, hoping to wipe out poverty by destroying the poor. He asked to address the event, and was added to the program at the last minute.
In response, Justin Raimondo revised his speech, opening with a strong attack on Mugabe and calling on the attendees to denounce him. According to Raimondo, "Associating with criminals like Mugabe will only help the War Party by giving them ammunition against us."
Following Raimondos talk, Caldicott, Ellsberg, Hawke, and other leaders spoke to the event’s organizers and informed them of plans to protest Mugabes talk. Shortly thereafter, Mugabe withdrew his request to speak. Official Zimbabwe state media said the cancellation was because "the atmosphere at lunch would not have been suitable for a head of state."
Dr. Mahathir said that the forum was open to everyone. "Everybody can attend. If he wants to say how good it is to be a dictator, he can."
Much More to Come
Antiwar.com will be reprinting many of the talks from the forum as they become available in coming days. Mp3 versions of the event’s activities will be available within a few weeks.
We expect this event to be only the beginning of what promises to be a truly nonsectarian, broad-based global antiwar movement.