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Rewards Not Bombs: The Answer to Ethnic and Religious Conflict.

Does any reasonable person still believe that the recent bombing by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--which destroyed thousands of lives and billions of dollars of infrastructure and other property in Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia--has solved the Balkan conflict? On the contrary; all the evidence indicates that it has made conditions there worse and intensified ethnic and religious hatreds.

Is there a solution? Yes. All it requires is the application of the method most often used to overcome conflicts at a personal level: rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior A good example of this is the dramatic reduction in the use of corporal punishment in schools.

But, one might ask, while issuing rewards isn't difficult to apply to personal conflicts, how would one apply it on the governmental or even international level, as with the Balkan conflict?

In this century there have been two attempts to peacefully resolve international conflicts. After the horrendous destruction caused by World War I, the League of Nations was established in 1920 with its chief agenda the prevention of war. It had some initial success; however, by the 1930s, the national interests taking over in such countries as Germany, Italy, and Japan caused its failure. World War II followed.

After this even more murderous and destructive world conflict--which witnessed both the Holocaust and the use of atomic bombs--the United Nations was established in 1945. Its main agenda was the peaceful resolution of conflict. It also has had some limited success, but there have been more and frequent wars--in Korea, the Middle East, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and now the Balkans.

These two failures to peacefully resolve international conflict show the need for a more radical approach.

The first thing to note is that in many of the recent conflicts--in the Balkans between Muslims and Orthodox Christians, in the Middle East between Jews and Muslims, in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, in India and Pakistan between Hindus and Muslims--the people have been tribalized through their religion. Religion has fostered the theme "we against they": we have the right way, we are the chosen people; they are the unbelievers, they will oppose us in our God-given ways.

So, instead of all the inhabitants of a community or region working together for their common benefit, they seek their own tribal interests and rewards. When different aims of this sort are in opposition, conflict arises, usually ending in armed struggle.

How can governments provide rewards to avoid such conflicts? The United States, as the first secular state, set the goal of people working together for the common benefit when it was established in 1789 as a democratic community based on the pursuit of happiness, equality for all, and separation of religion and government. Religion was meant to be a private matter, not established or supported by government. Most importantly, education was provided free for all children through public schools; there was to be no government funding for religious schools. So, at an early age, most American children attended community schools where they learned to live together and were educated together. It has been largely due to these principles that the United States has been able to integrate its millions of people of diverse nationalities into a relatively cohesive, peaceful community.

Australia adopted the same secular approach when it became a nation in 1901. Its constitution forbade government support for religion. Along with its states, the Australian government has provided free public education, which has helped immensely to assimilate its people of varied nationalities into a cohesive community.

In recent decades, however, the Australian government has funded private schools (mainly religious) and ethnic groups. This is tribalizing the Australian community. Meanwhile, various Australian religious and ethnic groups are supporting overseas conflicts in the Middle East, the Balkans, and Ireland. As we move into the new millennium, this does not bode well for Australians.

Encouraging and rewarding cohesive community practices has now become urgent. The United Nations should reward countries that are truly democratic, where all citizens are treated as equals, that encourage their citizens to work for the common good, and whose governments provide education for all but do not support religions. Such rewards would basically be financial and aimed for the general community benefit.

The funding for these rewards could be achieved by cutting military expenditures and instituting a tax on all international monetary transactions, thereby raising billions of dollars each year. Such rewards would demonstrate to the citizens of the recipient country that they achieve more through mutual effort than the pursuit of sectional, often religion-based, interests.

The United Nations would then be able to resume the role for which it was founded, and our progeny could live in a peaceful, rewarding world.

James Gerrand is a committee member of the Humanist Society of Victoria and the Victorian branch of the Australian Skeptics. A communications engineer with science and engineering degrees, he formerly worked for the United Nations.
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Article Details
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Author:Gerrand, James
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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