The Voice: Summer 2003
Krygsman sets the stage for delegates in opening address at three-day session
By: Hubert Krygsman
We are living in strange and momentous times. At this moment the US
and its coalition allies are an invading force in Iraq, and the shock
waves of that war reverberate across the world: casualties on both sides in
the war; suffering citizens and refugees beginning to flee; growing opposition to American
policy across the Arab world; rifts in alliances among Arabs, NATO, and the
UN; a potential shaking of the modern world to its very foundations. And
here we are in the American heartland, serenely and innocuously imagining we represent
Arab nations and trying to solve the problems of the world. Are we
caught in some paradoxical time warp? How can we even begin to think
of solutions for a world that is in uncertain flux? Are we engaged
in an exercise of futility? Are we shirking our responsibility to give more
practical service to our countries, to hungry civilians, or to world peace and
justice? Are we fiddling while the world burns?
All of these questions occurred to me in the last few weeks as
I thought about this meeting and about what to say to you. Such
questions reminded me of C. S. Lewiss famous address on Learning in War-Time.
Lewis gave this address to his students at Oxford University in 1939, when
the outbreak of World War II and the dark threat of Naziism was
leading many Europeans to march off to war, and to view study as
a shirkers luxury. Why study, Lewis asked, when the world is in crisis?
Part of Lewiss answer was this: war was indeed a crisis, but it
was not the gravest crisis facing humanity. The war, said Lewis, creates no
absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we
can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the
edge of a precipice. War, Lewis went on, is not new; it is
a reminder of the reality of the broken world we live in; it
makes death and our mortality real to us; and it exposes our failuresindeed
our inabilityto build utopias on earth.
In sum, it forces us to come to terms with the world we
live in. In this situation, Lewis replied, learning was not a mere luxury,
but an urgent necessity. Learning was one of those quintessential human activities that
must be continued even in wartime, lest we instead allow war to degrade
us into subhuman barbarism. But more, Lewis said: To be ignorant and simple
nownot to be able to meet the enemies on their own groundwould be
to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have,
under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen.
Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs
to be answered. It was especially in wartime that true learningunderstanding the world,
ourselves, others, our pastwas necessary for challenging the lies that lead to war
and for building at least a relatively peaceful and just society.
Here, then, is the first challenge I wish to present you: your task
is to envision, debate, and plan for the coming peace. As one of
my favorite scholars put it, Ideas have legs. That is, everyone thinks, interprets,
and makes assumptions about the world and acts on the basis of them.
It is vital that you learn right understanding, to think critically and constructively,
to sympathetically understand others, to work together effectively in envisioning the coming Middle
East order. Though you are young twenty-somethings now, in the next ten, twenty,
and thirty years the world will stand on the legs that you have
developed here, in preparation, and wherever you go from here.
And as Zbigniew Breszinski said in an interview last week, the greatest risk
in the world right now would be that of failing to take this
time of crisis to develop a long-term vision for reconstructing world relations and
a peaceful order in the Middle East and the world. So while you
will need to consider the causes of the war, I urge you to
go beyond recriminations about just war to focus on envisioning the creation of