Do modern day empires exist? A group of Global South activists seems to think so.
Philippines-based interfaith movement Peace for Life (PfL) has been challenging modern day empires, state terrorism, and militarized globalization since September 2002, a year after former U.S. President George W. Bush declared a war against terror and named the Philippines as the "second front of the war on terror."
Since then, the group's network has expanded to include representatives from over 20 countries, including the United States, Canada, Germany, and Australia. PfL meetings have convened in Bogota, Colombia; Seoul, Korea; Davao City, Philippines; and a host of other venues, the list of which now includes "the belly of the beast" itself, New York City.
Hosted from April 23-24 at Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in Manhattan, PfL's "World Without Empire" conference attracted an international delegation of students, activists, academics and leaders to discuss how to respond to the military, economic, and cultural dominance of the United States.
Topics at the conference, which was co-sponsored by the United Methodist Church, Drew University, and the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF), included The Empire Strikes: In Women's Voices, New Voices of Resistance, and The United States of Exception. The summit concluded with a Peace Festival featuring various cultural performances.
"When we talk about empire, the U.S. is really somehow at the center of it," Carmencita Karagdag, coordinator for PfL, told the Ecumenical Press.
According to Karagdag, there is a "concentration of political, economic, cultural, military power in one state, the United States, [which is]…assisted by satellite states, or lesser empires, and their allies among elites in subordinated countries, which work to advance the interest of the U.S."
Eunice Santana, the group's moderator and former president of the World Council of Churches (WCC), spoke of the effects of American military expansionism, which includes nearly 1,000 bases in over 60 countries, saying that the U.S. has "made the world a battlefield."
"The wars themselves, the interventions, prevention of people's sovereignty, and the justifications that go along with it that are not necessarily understood or looked at closely by people in the United States," Santana said, adding that such activities have a negative impact on the U.S. economy, as well as the country's presentation to the rest of the world.
"Military is institutionalized hatred," said Hyun Kung Chung, a professor at UTS and one of the event's organizers. "And the U.S.A is making money out of this militarism with a perpetual war to make their economy full, but not helpful. It never works."
Beyond its use of military power, the U.S. is also engaged in "economic exploitation, economic plunder of resources, and the plunder of the earth," Karagdag says.
"And it's not just economy, it's not just military, it's really people who want to have their sense of identity, their cultural heritage," she adds. "And people will fight to death to maintain that."
For Santana, such "domination" is a "contradiction to Christianity and the message of Christ, which is not to dominate but to love one another…and to consider everyone as children of God, created in the image of God."
"We cannot uphold such domination, we cannot remain aloof," she says. "We must criticize and we must act against what goes against what we understand to be God's will for humanity."
But while foreign policy has soiled the U.S.'s reputation in the sight of PfL, the group maintains a compassionate response towards Americans, with an understanding that many of them have also been victimized through the nation's dominating practices.
Karagdag said she found conference participants to be "very receptive" to the topics discussed, and that the event had "resonance with quite a number of people."
Santana said she felt that many of the conference's participants were examining themselves to see to what extent they were in complicity with empire themselves.
"There was some soul searching of some of the participants…in understanding about what empire is and at the same time how then they place themselves within that," Santana shared.
"I think many people in the U.S. are not of the empire. They are also victims of empire," Chung shared, noting that a world without empire is only possible "when there are people without empire."
We need "people who live in the empire but not of the empire," she said. "And people who are influenced under empire, but resist, and with tremendous resilience always choose life….rather than logic of the empire which is endless competition, endless domination over other people and endless greed."
According to Chung, those who have created empire can also dismantle it.
Using the metaphor of an ant, Chung said that "Within this big pyramid, if we make small, small holes, one day it will collapse."
Chung also likened PfL's solidarity network to a group of "spiders - we make connections among people who really believe in truth and the value of human life."
"Our goal is to make the whole value of humanity alive," she said. Bringing out "what is most important in human life. Really valuing human life and mother earth."
"When we really develop this kind of humanity and system, everybody benefits from it, including mother earth," Chung said. "So very simply – we want to be truly human, beautiful humans, truthful humans, happy humans, and we want to give this legacy to next generation."