Dear Yoko, as my hometown hosts your artwork ‘Imagine Peace Tower’ and the ‘Lennon-Ono Peace Awards’ ceremony, I feel compelled to offer some constructive criticism.
I never liked militarism. At one point, when I was about 14, I was fascinated with the way you and John campaigned against it. Not anymore. You made a few good points, but I fear that many of your actions have critically skewed and ridiculed the subject and that they will continue to do so until you seriously rethink your entire approach.
Your official theories on the nature of conflict, which are wrong, have rendered your rhetoric uninformative and politically spineless. Ignoring Iceland’s history, its local dissidents, and peace-movement, you have given a number of heavily corrupted industrialists and officials a chance to clean up their image at the same time as you’ve reinforced and promoted some deplorable misconceptions regarding Icelandic society.
Peace and love
There are two kinds of peace: tranquillity and the absence of violence. Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t necessarily connected. Their only common denominator is anti-militarism. Nothing else, not even a wish for world-peace.
Some are driven by their spiritual beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for the sake of informed discourse, political directness and solidarity, one should refrain from making a personal belief system the focus-point of activism. In the documentary ‘Imagine Peace’ by Ari Alexander Ergis Magnússon, you describe today’s major conflicts as a race between those who try to destroy the world and the others who try to cover the earth with love. This suggestion is useless, unfounded and oversimplified.
The physical reality of war can be independent of the participants’ feelings. One may kill without anger or hate and spare lives without love or forgiveness. The one thing that’s imperative to every conflict resolution is not love, but mercy—even when it’s cold, tactical or reluctant.
All-out mercy is a political decision. To materialise (rather than imagine) that decision is the common goal of this movement, not unified spirituality. Imagine no religion—don’t mystify the cause.
An influential peace-activist should analyse the work of their collaborators before inviting them to pose as ‘dreamers’ in public ceremonies. In a 2010 interview with ‘Inspired By Iceland’ you explained that you found it logical to build the Peace Tower in Iceland. Besides and beyond the old ‘green energy’ hogwash, your reasoning was more profound.
“At the map,” you explained, “Iceland is on the top, on the north. North is wisdom and power and the power of wisdom goes all the way down, it spreads […]. [The tower] communicates awareness to the whole world that peace and love is what connects all life on earth.”
You concluded: “Thank you Iceland and Icelanders for being what you are—a family of wisdom.”
I lack the words to share the way I felt when I heard this so I will instead try and deconstruct the idea that Iceland should be connected to environmentalism and peace.
Far from being renewable, Icelandic geothermal- and hydropower is being over-harvested for heavy industry throughout the highlands with a negative impact on their ecosystems and landscapes. Reykjavík Energy, which provides the Peace Tower with electricity, is at the forefront of this exploitation, selling power to international aluminium corporations, which in turn sell metal for arms manufacturing, which inevitably leads to ecocides, economic hits and murders.
As for the Icelandic state, it is a member of NATO and regularly hosts its extensive military exercises. It has no army, but was occupied in 1940 and has since resisted demilitarization. It deploys ‘peace keepers’ in Afghanistan who have claimed the lives of at least two unarmed citizens and supported the US invasion into Iraq.
During October 5-9, 2007, the parliament hosted the annual meeting of the NATO congress with around 730 representatives attending. It was the biggest meeting it had ever hosted. On the 8th, a tiny group of protesters flashed a banner reading ‘Check this Yoko’ in hopes of bringing attention to the abstraction of inviting the hosts of conspiring warlords to sing ‘Give Peace a Chance’ in memory of your pacifist husband on the Peace Tower’s grand opening the following night.
Your ceremony completely overshadowed the war-conference that preceded it and put Reykjavík on the map as an assemblage point for pacifism. It bugs me to witness this absurdity and be unable to do anything about it.
Others feel differently. During the 2009 InDefence campaign (of nationalists outraged by British use of anti-terrorist legislations during Iceland’s financial meltdown), several photos of the tower were sent to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to demonstrate the non-terrorist nature of the Icelandic people.
In early 2008, the Office of the Prime Minister published an extensive report on the image of Iceland, suggesting ways to shape and promote a suitable image to attract tourists, encourage investment and maintain respect in international politics. Its main finding was that the words “peace,” “strength” and “freedom” were to be the pillars of Iceland’s image. To promote this idea internationally, government-funded campaigns like Promote Iceland’s Inspired By Iceland were started.
Thus, the Peace Tower reflects Icelandic nationalism the way it is understood, practiced and sold today. Lacking all record of resistance, unity or achievements, this ideology seeks to portray the nation as cute rather than mighty and capitalises on values like peace despite its voluntary affiliation with some of the deadliest campaigns and unions of modern history.
Give peace a chance
It’s a lot to ask. To show mercy regardless of a situation must take a most painful self-restraint. I wouldn’t expect it of war-torn people. I wouldn’t expect it of you.
Yes, John was shot down like a victim of war and I cannot imagine the pain. The pain people must face to give peace a chance. I sympathise with any resentment for Mark David Chapman. But I also know that based on what he saw as God’s will, he ignored his defence lawyers, refused to defend himself and read a passage from ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ during his court case. He is insane and 32 years later, he’s still in prison; a pit of demoralisation and physical violence, hell-bent on destroying its subjects. Seven times he’s been denied parole, partly because of your objections.
Peace is mercy materialised and here lies your most challenging opportunity to confront violence, not for a moral high-ground but for a less brutal conclusion of a war that is real in matter as in spirit. For Mark, and the world, it would set an example far more relevant than claiming that your love is limitless and unconditional. I respectfully suggest that you call for his release or transfer to a mental facility.
I also urge you to publicly deconstruct the myths that surround Iceland’s image that you’ve helped to spread. At last I ask you, not out of contempt, but concern, to turn off the Peace Tower. To rid Iceland of this false testament to its moral superiority that is built on folly and error in memory of a man who will never be forgotten.
How do you reply?
First published in Reykjavik Grapevine
Art by Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir