Literature and World Peace : Peace Through Literature
Dr. S. M. Rizwan Ahmad
Dept. of English, Vinoba Bhave University, Hazaribagh (Jharkhand)
Mob.No.9470939195, E-mail:

The word literature etymologically embraces every written material ranging from text books to different kinds of writing. Here I am concerned with literature as an art form, as opposed to literature as cold facts, abstract philosophy and pure reason. Literature as art uses cold facts, abstract philosophy and pure reason as raw materials to create pleasurable new world. It does not mean that literatures of cold facts, abstract philosophy and pure reason do not play a role in the advancement of world peace. On the contrary, history books, religious documents, newspaper articles, etc. had at one time or another in world history either contributed to the advancement of peace, or become a tool for anarchy. This is because as cold facts their impact is instantaneous but ephemeral. They lack the power to appeal to the people’s sense of aesthetics. A newspaper article shall simply exhort people to either revolt or embrace dialogue. They present the society with harsh realities, even exaggerated versions at times, as in the case of civil war propaganda. The difference is that while literature as art is also pursuing an ideology, it manages to make its propaganda content very subtle and emphasize the aesthetic content. That is what some scholars call imaginative literature. And the major difference between it and reality is that while reality lives an experience, the literary arts recreate an experience with the intention to instruct, entertain, and make beautiful. This type of literature is a specialized area where only those with the approved tools operate. Writers of this brand of literature produce works that are eternal, surviving when every other thing has disappeared.

According to George Thomson (1946:65), “The poet speaks not for himself only but for his fellow men. His cry is their cry, which only he can utter. That is what gives its depth.” The poet as used by George Thomson is representative of writers of our type of literature, imaginative literature. Chinua Achebe elaborated on writers of imaginative literature and their art when he said , ”The matter is really quite simple. Literature, whether handed down by word of mouth or in print, gives us a second handle on reality; enabling us to encounter in the safe, manageable dimensions of make-believe the very same threats to integrity that may assail the psyche in real life, and at the same time providing through the self-discovery which it imparts a veritable weapon for coping with these threats whether they are found within problematic and incoherent selves or in the world around us.”1

It is better to reflect a little on the nature of our world to be able to appreciate better what literature can do in advancing peace in the world. Generations upon generations of humanity have speculated on concepts such as world government, world currency, globalization, world peace, etc. Some of these expressions are, to say the least utopian. The idea of world peace seems to be coming loudest from religious quarters and ironically, the greatest threat to the attainment of peace is ideological intolerance among religious sects; the Islamic World versus the Christian and Jew Zealots, the Christian proselytizers versus adherent of native religions, etc. The concept of world peace came into vogue after the Second World War metamorphosed into United Nations organization. There had been visible efforts made over time at securing world peace. The bewildering aspect of all this is that despite the whole efforts at peace which culminated in the formation of the league of Nations, less than three decades after the end of the first world war, the world experienced a more devastating second world war.

The end of the Second World War again witnessed a fresh effort at peace with the formation of the United Nations Organization (UNO) to replace the League of Nations. The efforts notwithstanding, many other wars had taken place all over the world since after the Second World War; the Vietnam War, the Rwandan War, the Nigerian Civil War, the Gulf War instigated by the West, the recent U.S. led air- attack on Iraq on the pretext of false allegation of Weapons of Mass Destruction in which innocent women, children and men were killed, the Afghan resistance against Imperialism of the U.S., and the on-going Israeli attack in the Gaza Strip. The worrisome question remains; why does peace seem so unattainable?

There are certain social factors which are particularly inimical to the advancement of peace: corruption and lack of consideration for other people’s world views as the main impediments to the advancement of world peace. Literature has often been described as the mirror of society. Right from Geoffrey Chaucer‘s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales to T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, we find that the poets have tried to pen-picture the corruption and the other misdeeds of their times. ”Things Fall Apart” written by Chinua Achebe addresses the colonial injustice done locally to the Igbo of Southern Nigeria. E.M. Forster’s “A Passage to India” shows the gap between the British rulers and the Indians. In this novel, after having bitter experience of racial difference, Dr. Aziz is hell-bent to free India from the clutches of the foreign rulers. But the global society which literature is supposed to mirror is, terribly treacherous. Our world is very hypocritical. David Icke, an American writer, reveals how a chain of individuals he referred to as the global elite, through some multi-national corporations, manipulate people and events of the world (Bridge of Love, 1995). This shows that even at the peak of pretension to equality, our world is still confronted by that cancerous human complex most beautifully captured in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” thus;” ---All animals are equal but some are more equal than the others.” Propaganda is so much dominant in the novel that all the characters except pigs and dogs are the victims of it.

Imaginative literatures should commit themselves to the advancement of peace first in the communities of their origin and that is the basis for their global relevance in the advancement of world peace. On a wider scale, imaginative literature needs to address the issue of hypocrisy. Writers of imaginative literature should be sensitive to the feelings and world views of readers of their literatures. No matter what you might think the ideology of another is, it is no justification for insult, particularly the largest practicing religion of the world. When on February 14, 1989 Salman Rushdie was condemned to death by the former Iranian spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeini for publishing the novel “Satanic Verses”, Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the 1988 Nobel prize in literature criticized Khomeini for what he described as “intellectual terrorism”, but sooner changed his view and rightly said that Rushdie did not have the right to insult anything, especially a prophet or anything considered holy. The publication of “Satanic Verses” provoked violent protests in India, Pakistan Egypt and in many parts of the Islamic world.

One more example of such literatures that offend the sensibility of their readers is the recently published work, “Da Vinci Code” written by an American novelist, Darl Brown. This novel is classified heretical among Christians. In the novel, the identity of Jesus is unconventionally treated and it provoked angry protests from the Christian world. It is important that writers of imaginative literature and cartoonists too, should identify the dividing line between constructive presentation of events and unwarranted insult. An artist should not write with an aim to be awarded any prize as such .It is another fact that even in the history of Nobel Prize in Literature, many literary achievements were overlooked or not recognized as such, often for political reasons, due to the lack of available translations, and ethnocentric bias. The literary historian Kjell Espmark admitted that “as to the early prizes, the censure of bad choices and blatant omissions is often justified. Tolstoy, Ibsen and Henry James should have been rewarded instead of, for instance, Sully Prudhomme, Eucken and Heyse.”

The need of the hour is peace and literature can be used as an instrument to attain this goal. Ando Hiroshige, a Japanese poet has rightly expressed his views on universal brotherhood:

It is our hope
That all the world’s oceans
Be joined in peace
So why do the winds and waves
Now rise up in angry rage?

Instead of The Weapons of Destruction, the contemporary world badly needs The Weapons of Mass Instruction. Instead of military tanks, the world needs book tanks which can infuse love for human beings among the masses. I wish to end my research paper reading by quoting the special focus of this International Seminar written in Sanskrit, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, meaning “the whole world is one family” and a translated verse from the Holy Quran mentioned in Chapter 49 of Verse No. 13 of Hujrat:

“O Mankind! I (Allah) has created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and it’s I who has made into nations and tribes, that you may recognize one another, not that you despise one another and the most honoured in the sight of Allah is, the one, who is the most righteous.”


1. Achebe, Chinua. Anthills of the Savanna, New York: Doubleday, 1988.
2. Icke, David---And the truth shall set you free, Cambridge: Bridge of Love
Publications 1995.
3. Espmark, Kjell, Nobel’s Will and the Literature Prize (http://www.nobelprizeorg)


(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Jan-April 2013)