The Alternatives to Empire Project is inspired by the belief that people of different faiths and philosophies can combine to create a cosmopolitan framework which will nurture a universal yet culturally and religiously diverse civilization, underpinned by values which we believe are commonly held by all the great faith and humanist traditions to facilitate a dialogue among faiths to vision an alternative to the hegemonic ways of empire.
For at least three millennia, humanity has been dominated by a succession of imperial powers.
Empire has been and is characterized by
- Dominance achieved through military victory
- The exploitation of the economic resources of the subject peoples for the benefit of the imperial power
- The marginalization of the languages, cultures and religions of subject peoples and their replacement by the imperial language, culture and religion
- The projection of the myth of the intellectual, cultural and even ethnic superiority of the imperial power which was often accompanied by the deliberate debasement of the worldview and values of the subject peoples
- The imposition of imperial law
- The movement of peoples to further the economic goals of the imperial power
- The transfer of wealth from poor to rich.
Today humankind is at the crossroads. Powerful interests in the United States with the support of interests in other parts of the world seem intent on creating the first global empire in history – an empire bent on recreating the world in its own image, an empire capable of unleashing the most destructive military machine in human history.
This drive for imperial power is generating unease and resentment among a wide cross-section of the global community. Regrettably, it is also inducing fringe elements to resort to indiscriminate violence. Nowhere is this tension between empire and the resistance to it starker than in the tragedy that has befallen the people of Iraq.
Many trends point to this contradictory reality. Several are worth highlighting:
- With the end of the Cold War the United States was left as the only superpower in the world, the only state able to project military power on a global scale. During this period successive US administrations have sought to use their military supremacy to advance their interests in different parts of the world, notably in the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East and Afghanistan. A process of steady enlargement has brought NATO to Russia’s doorstep. While many of America’s allies have been willing to follow the US lead on many fronts, serious tensions have emerged within the Western world, specifically between the United States and several of its European allies, who have become increasingly dismayed by US policies on such issues as Iraq, the Middle East conflict, climate change and the International Criminal Court.
- US unilateralism and exceptionalism have created deep disenchantment among many governments and peoples, who continue to place their faith in the international rule of law and multilateral institutions, notably the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, even though they recognize that much needs to be done to make these institutions more effective and democratic.
- With the passage of time, and especially in the aftermath of September 11, a glaring gap has emerged between US official rhetoric about democracy and freedom and the absence of democracy at the global level. Human rights in many countries have been steadily eroded, not least in western democratic states intent on pursuing the ‘war on terror’ without due regard to existing national and international laws and conventions.
- Intense discontent and anger with the policies of the imperial power have become widespread in many parts of the Muslim world, not least on the question of Palestine which Arab countries and Muslims generally see as evidence of the bias and hypocrisy of US foreign policy. It is to be deplored that groups on the margins of Muslim society have chosen to respond to this bias by using terror against the interests and symbols of US hegemony.
- Serious frictions have also emerged in the world economy, most strikingly in trade relations between the major centers of economic power, notably the United States, the European Union, Japan and China. The economic rise of China, and to a lesser extent India, has created apprehension among influential circles in the Unites States.
- At the same time, the economic divide between rich and poor, both within and between countries, has deepened, partly as a consequence of the neo-liberal policies which governments, the IMF and other capitalist institutions have been steadfastly pursuing.
- It comes as no surprise, then, that many developing countries have become sharply critical of the existing international trade and financial regimes, and have strongly resisted the efforts of leading western economies to finalize the current round of WTO negotiations.
- Increasingly, social movements have seen the need to draw attention to the failures of hegemonic globalization. The mass public protests staged in several of the world’s major cities in support of the Millennium Development Goals, fair trade and debt relief indicate a much sharper level of public awareness. The intense debate that has arisen between the Davos and Porto Alegre models of globalization points in the same direction. The response of national governments and electorates has been to reassert the principles of equity, justice and independence, even though these concepts are often elusive in both theory and practice.
- Public concern with the implications of hegemonic globalization has assumed a particularly high profile on the issue of global warming, which many now see as the symptom of a much deeper environmental crisis that goes to the heart of consumerist lifestyles and the profligate use of energy, and points to the inadequacy of government responses generally, and the complete failure of US leadership.
Put simply, the US-led Empire, understood as a complex structure of political, economic and military power, is in considerable difficulty, a situation that carries enormous risks but also considerable opportunities.
The question facing peoples, movements, groups and individuals everywhere is how to minimize the risks and maximize the opportunities. However, we go further. We suggest that we are living through a unique moment in history. We believe it is now possible to conceive of alternatives to the imperial project which embody a new way of seeing and living in the world. This requires analytical insight, ethical boldness and strategic preparation. Above all, it calls for an approach that is rooted in a spirituality that can give meaning and purpose to the human journey.
By cultivating such spirituality we hope to lay the moral and intellectual foundations we need to construct a world that is not based on imperial or hegemonic power.
More than ever before the human journey needs to be informed and inspired by spiritual and moral values that are universal in scope and inspiration, values that are premised on the fundamental questions of human existence: Who are we? What is our purpose on this earth? How should we live? How should we address the challenges that face humanity at this critical moment of its history?
When such questions and the transcendental worldview that lies behind them firmly shape our collective consciousness, we can begin to imagine the emergence of new world order. Only then can we approach with confidence the task of building political, economic and cultural institutions and policies that break with the legitimization of greed, the perpetuation of hegemony and the sanctification of violence.
It is our earnest hope and conviction that at this time we can by our collective efforts build a cosmopolitan framework which will nurture a universal yet culturally and religiously diverse civilization. We visualise a world that combines a profound sense of human solidarity with an abiding attachment to community, respect for individual and collective rights with acceptance of individual and collective responsibilities, a world that upholds the dignity of the human person, social and economic justice, compassion, the sacredness and unity of all life, responsible stewardship of the earth’s ecosystems, sustainability in social and economic organisation, and a deep sense of our collective responsibility to future generations and the survival of the human species
We are living through one of those rare moments in history when women and men from different faiths and philosophies who are bound together by a shared spiritual-moral vision are pointing in this direction. Together we are striving to create a world that is simultaneously one and many, a world that takes pride in the achievements of science and intellect but seeks to place these at the service of all human beings and communities, irrespective of gender, nation, ethnicity, creed or social and economic status.
What we envisage is an inter-civilisational process that involves dialogue, advocacy and action, and brings together not only those of religious faith but also secular humanists, Confucians and others who are not formally affiliated to any faith community but are deeply conscious of humanity’s higher destiny. Their insights and experiences will be crucial in crystallising new ways of seeing and living in the world.
The dialogue will help to expose the flaws of the imperial project and release new energies, resources and skills. It will pave the way for more appropriate forms of organising human affairs, while recognising and celebrating all that is valuable in our respective traditions and cultures. We envisage reformed national, regional and global institutions that more faithfully reflect the multipolarity of the world and nurture new forms of active citizenship.
To this end, the Alternatives to Empire Project proposes the establishment of focus groups in as many countries as possible. Out of these groups and discussions, we expect proposals and plans to emerge for the staging of national and international workshops, lecture tours, and conferences as well as the publication of books, journals and opinion pieces, and one or two strategically selected international projects.
One of the first tasks of the project will be the establishment of an interactive website that disseminates information, analysis and proposals about the Empire, what might usefully replace it, and how this goal might be approached in the practical contexts of everyday life. In due course, we see the project producing ideas for a range of initiatives in the fields of education, journalism and public advocacy.
The three organisations that have initiated this project (in Malaysia and Australia) will help to coordinate these activities. They will, as a first step, invite as many other organisations and individuals as possible to consider this statement, and associate themselves in various ways with its vision and strategic approach.
Dr Chandra Muzaffar
International Movement for a Just World (JUST)
Prof Joseph A. Camilleri
Pax Christi Australia
Rev. David Pargeter
Commission for Mission
Uniting Church in Australia
Synod of Victoria and Tasmania