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Part 2: Father of Peace Studies, Johan Galtung, on Occupy Wall Street, Failed U.N. Response in Syria

Web ExclusiveApril 17, 2012
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In part two of our conversation with Johan Galtung, author of many books, including The Fall of the US Empire—And Then What?, he discusses Occupy Wall Street, which he considers “deeply American, in the most positive sense.” He also examines why the United Nations’ responses to Syria have failed to bring peace, arguing it has failed to offer solutions. “People are not giving up their arms if they don’t see a solution. Why should they? They are fighting for their lives, and they are scared to death by what might happen. So you have to be closer to a solution. Put the horse before the cart.” Galtung suggests the way to peace in Syria is to establish a federation government, with peacekeeping forces from Islamic countries.

Click here to see part one of this interview.

AMY GOODMAN: Johan Galtung is considered the founder of peace studies. He’s a Norwegian sociologist. He travels the world, has been to Afghanistan a number of times, also is writing about and talking about Syria, as well as other countries. Johan Galtung has written the book, The Fall of the US Empire—And Then What?: Successors, Regionalization or Globalization? US Fascism or US Blossoming?

Now, I begin this part two of the conversation with Johan Galtung by asking you about the fall of the U.S. Empire, as you put it, the title of your book. How do you relate that to Afghanistan?

JOHAN GALTUNG: By the U.S. becoming irrelevant. U.S. is not a major actor in Afghanistan and hasn’t been for a long time. And you see, as T.S. Eliot has said, things may end with a whimper and not with a bang. Irrelevance is that whimper, you see. And it is tied to demoralization of the U.S. elites, if you want, a case of demoralization. Look at the U.S. Secret Service in Colombia, what happened. More concerned with prostitutes than with protecting the President.

AMY GOODMAN: We were just speaking about the trial of Breivik in Norway, this anti-Muslim extremist. What—where does he come from? What does he represent to you?

JOHAN GALTUNG: I haven’t met him personally. I would very much like to have a dialogue with him to try to understand his thinking. He lives in his own world. You should not construct him as a Norwegian or as a member of a right-wing Norwegian party. Maybe his Freemason affiliation was more important. Not the Freemasons as an organization, but I’m thinking of the loyalty oaths. He probably has a number of solidarity, loyalty networks that are very obscure and very hidden. Being well versed in history, making his mistakes, but knowing more than many, many people in Norway do, he has links to Judeo-Christian history, to the Crusades. And I think he lives partly in the past. He’s enacting the past. I don’t think there are many people like him.

What he did was not only anti-Muslim. He has the idea of traitors, the multiculturalists, who are paving the way. And he finds them at the top of the Labour Party and in the youth movement, where my granddaughter was a member, and I was once a member of the same organization. So it hits Norway deeply, you see. Now, the idea of seeing traitors everywhere reminds me of an American activity in the U.S. some time ago. Fortunately, you didn’t have a Breivik shooting and killing 77 people, but who did a lot of spiritual killing in the U.S. So, traitor is also what many people, Taliban, see in Afghanistan. So Breivik is a kind of parallel on the Western side to those who kill, quote, “traitors,” unquote, in Afghanistan. And that that should happen in Norway, strange.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, when this happened last summer, I thought about Stieg Larsson. He’s very famous, wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, among other books, died before these books got published. But what people didn’t know as much about Stieg Larsson is that he founded the Swedish Expo Foundation and edited its magazine, Expo, which was part of his passion to counteract the growth of the extreme right and the white power culture in schools and among young people. If he were alive today—and did you know Stieg Larsson? Do you know what—

JOHAN GALTUNG: No, I didn’t. I did—I know about it, but I didn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what he would say about this? Because he certainly saw it as part of a threatening movement across Europe, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, racist.

JOHAN GALTUNG: Well, let us face it, you see. I think we have to dig into the realities in this. Take my country, Norway. You have empty churches and overfilled mosques. Why is Islam so attractive? And what is failing in Norwegian semi-secularized Christianity? I give you two words about Islam: togetherness and sharing. Look at how they pray. So tightly together, you cannot have the two genders next to each other. They’re in separate rooms. Look at how Norwegians pray. Isolated. On their knees, perhaps, but isolated. This is just symbolic. It’s just metaphorical. But Islam has a “we” culture. We, also in the U.S., have an “I” culture. Now, sharing, zakat, to lift up the poorest, 10 percent of your income. Well, maybe—they are human beings: maybe sometimes they cheat on it; maybe sometimes they do it very honestly.


JOHAN GALTUNG: But we don’t have very much of that in the West, you see.


JOHAN GALTUNG: So there is a big attraction in Islam, at the same time as much of the West has a spiritual emptiness. Let’s face it: we have to do something about it. And the way to do it is not the Breivik approach, and it’s not killing Afghans or Iraqis. Or—I mean, that is what Bush was doing. Obama has extended that to four more countries, and then he has the SEALs operating inside other countries. And not quite by chance, they happen mostly to be Muslim countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Johan Galtung, I wanted to switch gears to Syria. You’ve written extensively about it. On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council backed a ceasefire and unanimously voted to send monitors to Syria. This is the U.N. envoy who was sent, the former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

KOFI ANNAN: This afternoon we’ve had the chance to review where we are, and the agency is doing whatever we can to consolidate the fragile ceasefire that is on the ground. So we were both very relieved and happy that the council has passed a unanimous resolution authorizing the deployment of the observers. And we will try to get them in there as quickly as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Kofi Annan. Johan Galtung, talk about what’s happening in Syria and what you think needs to happen.

JOHAN GALTUNG: With due respect for Kofi Annan, I think they’re putting the cart before the horse. Let us look at it just very, very briefly. It is run by an Alawite Shia dictatorship, headed by Assad, father and son. It’s a dictatorship. Introduce democracy in that one and let a Sunni majority have the power, it will be a majority dictatorship. The Shias are afraid of it. The Jews are afraid of it. The Christians in Syria are afraid of it. The Kurds are afraid of it. They are scared to death by the prospect of democracy in the sense of the dictatorship of majority. Now, you may try and use a ceasefire, but a ceasefire without any type of solution. And the solution, in my view, would be a federation, a federated Syria. You see, if you have democracy, in the sense of majority rule, in a country with so deep contradictions, with the fault lines so absolutely almost unbridgeable, then the majority rule will be majority dictatorship. And they’re heading in the same direction in Iraq, but there the Shias are in the majority, 61 percent. So then you have two countries—one Sunni, one Shia—neighboring countries. It couldn’t be worse. And this is the outcome of U.S. foreign policy.

Now, the Baath parties that were running the two countries dictatorially, they were an effort to get away from that, by secularizing Islam, to put it—this is much more complicated than I say, but let me just put it that way. OK, that didn’t meet with West’s approval. Instead of helping them, they were killing them. And they were—well, they were executing Saddam Hussein. They would probably like to do something of the same with Assad. This is not a way to peace.

The way to peace is a federation, linkage with neighboring countries, peacekeeping forces—not by NATO, anything like that, but again, by Islamic countries in cooperation with UNSC. But first have a solution before you talk too much about ceasefire. People are not giving up their arms if they don’t see a solution. Why should they? They are fighting for their lives, and they are scared to death by what might happen. So you have to be closer to a solution. Put the horse before the cart.

AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment of the United States and its power at the United Nations? And then, the United States and what is happening in Iran—the United States, Israel and Iran, the kind of escalated rhetoric for war?

JOHAN GALTUNG: Well, I think much of the world is frightened, scared by it. And I think one of the keys to it is 1953, the CIA-MI6-headed coup d’état deposing a democratically elected prime minister, Mosaddegh—not an unproblematic person, but for reasons that were very, very bad. So, the Iranians have not forgiven them for that. Twenty-five years of Shah dictatorship came in, followed by the dictatorship, more or less, but with quite a lot of democratic openings, too, which was introduced by the Khomeini revolution in 1978. If the U.K. and the U.S. could apologize for 1953, it would help an enormous amount. So, we have four figures: 1-9-5-3. And I talk a little bit too much about uranium-238, -235 and plutonium. That’s one. It is a figure in it. But the proposal that came from Brazil and Russia and some other countries was not a bad one. It was an imaginative, creative one. They could have been more positive to that one. But I think much of the root of the problem is in the past. So I mentioned one.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the Occupy Wall Street movement and the larger movement around the country. People have already started sleeping outside the New York Stock Exchange. Police have begun arresting people. We went down the other night to the Stock Exchange, where people were speaking on the sidewalk, and spoke to some of the activists there.

GEORGE MACHADO: My name is George Machado. This is Wall Street. This is where—for the people, where the heart of all this economic injustice in the world comes from and exists. So we’re here standing in the face of that in blatant, explicit contest to that. And we’re also using this space to face outward to all the people who move through here, both—and trying to enter in conversation and not just be confrontational and agitating.

JOSÉ MARTÍN: So, my name’s José Martín. And now we’ve finally come out, using a law that was passed in 2000 by court order, to demonstrate on the sidewalk right across from the New York Stock Exchange, one of the main financial institutions in this country that is actually—is allowing the bankers to profit off of the debt of students, of workers, as well as the starvation of 20 million people every year, the homelessness of more than 10,000 people in this city alone, as well as many others across the planet, and the exploitation of workers in the earth, the world over.

AMY GOODMAN: Johan Galtung, you are a longtime peace activist. Your thoughts on the Occupy movement?

JOHAN GALTUNG: I’m enthusiastic about it. It’s a nonviolent, leaderless movement. And you quoted the subtitle of my book about the U.S. Empire: “U.S. Fascism or U.S. Blossoming?” Both. Fascism from the top: Obama abolishing habeas corpus on New Year’s Eve. You have the horrifying Supreme Court decision that to buy politicians, which is essentially what the bankers are doing, is freedom of expression. Absolutely horrifying. Bye-bye U.S. democracy. And then you have the groundswell of people coming up and a fantastic, imaginative talent of Americans. I love it. Leaderless. And they have as point one on their agenda to increase the level of consciousness and awareness. Look, they were able to put the 99 percent versus 1 percent, or versus 1 per mill, on the agenda. They were able to feel people—that people felt badly when they were too rich, and not talking so much about their success, but having a low horizon.

And, of course, I’m itching to—what shall I say?—to see ideas that I think are good ideas implemented in practice. But they take their time. They do the job of consciousness rising, talking more among themselves than to other people. They’re not selling out to, let us say, intellectual leaders, to some extent like myself. They are working from the ground up. I find it fantastic and deeply American, in the most positive sense. So I just want to see them, as many of them as possible, occupying as many places as possible and having the conversations and the dialogues going on. Then you have the U.S. fascism from the top mobilizing the police, trying to kick them out and so on. And you have—what a shame. I would like to see Obama sitting down with them, having a dialogue. I haven’t seen one leading U.S. politician engaging in dialogue with the U.S. people in that way. Now, all of this started in Madison, Wisconsin. The Arab Spring landed in the U.S. in Madison, Wisconsin. We all know that story. And it has been spreading, and I hope it will be Occupy U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: Johan Galtung, my final question goes back to your book, The Fall of the US Empire—And Then What?. If you could elaborate further on that, on the points that you’re trying to make in this book, which is not easy to get in the United States, but explores a global phenomenon now taking place before the eyes of the world. You say—you’re talking about the fall of U.S. Empire, but possibly the blossoming of the U.S. republic. Explain what you mean by that.

JOHAN GALTUNG: You see, an empire is not just a question of military interventions. Let us say the U.S. has had about 245 of those since Thomas Jefferson started in 1805. It’s a kind of combination of economic, military, political, cultural politics coming together, and it seeks elites in the imperialized countries that are cooperating with the U.S., reliable elites. When I talk about the fall of the U.S. Empire, those elites are disappearing. You don’t find them in Latin America. You find them in Colombia. That’s where the so-called summit meeting took place. You find them not turning their back to the U.S. Like me, they love the country. But they turn their back to the U.S. foreign policy. And you find them all over the world. That’s the U.S. Empire falling.

And at the same time, you have this blossoming, where the Occupy movement is a very good sign of it—innovative, fantastically cooperative, horizontal, not trying to manipulate the world from above. Washington could learn a lot from the Occupy movement, if you put it that way.

So in the book, I said, by 2020, it’s over. And I look forward to the U.S., instead of intervening militarily, starting solving conflicts. You have so many bright people in this country, so many well-educated people. And, you see, solving conflict, you have to talk with the other side, or the other sides. You have to sit down with Taliban and al-Qaeda people or people close to al-Qaeda. You have to sit down with Pentagon people, State Department people. And you have to ask them, “What does the Afghanistan look like where you would like to live? What does the Middle East look like where you would like to live?” You get an enormous amount of very thoughtful people having very deep reflections. And I haven’t so far, in my more—well, at least 3,000 dialogues since I started about 55 years ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, of all places—I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t have some valid point.

So you take these valid, legitimate points, you lift them up, and you try to bridge them by doing something new. So I suggested a Central Asian community. I suggested a federation for Syria. And so on. The Central Asian community for Afghanistan. Now, U.S. could do that. U.S. could stop these stupid interventions and this extrajudicial killing, which is Obama’s specialty. He’s doing it on the sly, a more sneaky way than the Bushes did, too, particularly the junior. In a sense, I prefer Bush Jr. because he was more honest. His rhetoric corresponded to his action, and vice versa. But leaving that aside, let me just say that economically, the U.S. has to stop trying to extract more benefit than stead you and have a wiser policy—we don’t have time to go into that—culturally, dialogue. I would love to see the U.S. asking China, “How did you lift 400 million people from misery up to lower-middle-class standard of living? How did you do it? We would like to learn from you?” Well, the Chinese have a couple of things to tell about that. It’s a very interesting method. We don’t have time for it. And I haven’t found a single person in the U.S. who knows what they did. I would like to see negotiation politically instead of arms twisting. Well, the U.S. is capable of doing all of this, and very many decent United States people do this at the local level in daily life and do wonderful things. I wish that Washington could become a little bit more enlightened.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you one—

JOHAN GALTUNG: And this will help that.

AMY GOODMAN: —last question, since we’re about to lose the satellite to you. You ask a question in your title, The Fall of US Empire—And Then What?, by saying “US Fascism or US Blossoming?” At the exposinggrowth”>beginning of this show, we were congratulating Matt Apuzzo of the Associated Press, who’s part of a team that have been investigating the New York Police Department’s spying on, first and foremost, the Muslim community, with people called so-called “mosque crawlers” and others, but also progressive movements throughout the Northeast. And I’m wondering which do you think is most likely, and what do you mean when you say “US Fascism or US Blossoming”?

JOHAN GALTUNG: Fascism from above, blossoming from the top. Blossoming at the local level, the Occupy movement. A farewell to democracy by the Democrats and the Republicans being undistinguishable, all of them bought by the bankers. I notice that Goldman Sachs is no longer betting on Obama; they’re now switching to Mitt Romney. Goldman Sachs has a tendency to survive, and they’re a part of that U.S. fascism, well heeled, money-wise, from the top for both ends.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. We’ve been speaking with Johan Galtung, the Norwegian peace philosopher, the father of peace and conflict studies, author of many books, winner of many awards. His most recent book, The Fall of the US Empire—And Then What? Thank you so much, Johan Galtung, speaking to us from Minneapolis. He will move on then to Washington and Philadelphia and then leave the country. He is speaking around the country right now.

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