Terra Incognita: How to fake peacefulness

The jury-rigged statistical nonsense of the Global Peace Index has lead to a morally bankrupt result.

sudan tank 224 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
sudan tank 224 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
On July 30 The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel ranked 141 out of 144 countries on the Global Peace Index published by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), making Israel out to be less peaceful than Sudan, Iran and Pakistan. By the logic and methodology employed, Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany would have scored well. The message of studies such as this dovetails with the false legitimacy of conferences such as the UN's Durban II which claim to be about racism but are themselves racist. Together they are part of the moral bankruptcy behind so much of the rhetoric about peace, racism, war crimes and justice. The IEP describes itself as a "vision of humanity" that is bringing "a strategic approach to raising the world's attention and awareness around the importance of peacefulness to humanity's survival." It claims to be dedicated to educating people about the "relationship between economic development, business and peace." Like other "indexes" such as the Freedom Index and Property Rights Index, the institute sifts through mountains of data and then reduces each data set into 23 "indicators." The indicators are then divided into three categories; "measures of ongoing domestic and international conflict, measures of safety and security in society and measures of militarization." There was enough information about 144 countries that they could be evaluated. Such figures as the number of murders per 100,000 people in a given country and the number of deaths in internal conflicts and "relations with neighboring countries" must all be made into numbers. This system, which is popular in the social sciences, means quantifying such abstract concepts as people's "perception of criminality in society." This is open to a form of fraud. Israelis may think their society is violent, just as South Africans do, but the murder rate here is 2.65 for every 100,000, whereas in South Africa it is 38. Perception of violence says nothing about violence. Similarly the index measures the ease of access to weapons, military sophistication and number of heavy weapons - all figures which have no connection to actual levels of violence. But perhaps the indicator with the greatest chutzpah is the "potential for terrorist attacks," which actually punishes a country because people might target it. IN COMPARING the Sudan, which scored 140 out of 144, the level of idiocy disguised as banality becomes clear. Sudan, which has caused the deaths of more than 300,000 of its own citizens and displaced millions of them to Chad, scores exactly the same as Israel under the category "number of displaced people as a percentage of population." Perhaps the score for Sudan is the same as Israel because Sudan has achieved a complete genocide of its black Muslim Darfuri population and thus there aren't any displaced left? This isn't exactly a measurement of "absence of violence," which is what the Index claims to measure. Israel and Sudan also score the same under "number of deaths from organized internal conflict," while Israel scores worse under "number of deaths from organized external conflict." Israel didn't fight any wars against an external enemy in 2008, unless Gaza is "external," and then it is not clear what the "internal" conflict is since there is no conflict inside the Green Line. The creators of the index seem to have punished Israel twice for Gaza while giving Sudan a pass, since Sudan isn't at war with its neighbors, it's just slaughtering people within its borders. This jury-rigged statistical nonsense leads to a morally bankrupt result. The insinuation of the survey is clear: Israel is one of the most violent places in the world. This jives with the typical surveys in Europe where people place Israel on the top of the list of countries "threatening world peace." BY CONTRAST, countries currently involved in mass human rights violations, genocides and even outright slavery can be considered "peaceful." Countries that resemble one large prison, such as North Korea, are positively wonderful to live in, according to the index. Lebanon, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and the Congo, all of which have central governments that barely function, are doing better than Israel. Egypt, where tourists are forbidden from visiting much of the country, where tourist attractions are like armed police camps and where tourists must travel on special trains for safety, is considered 54th out of 144 countries, a prime place to live, "absent of violence." It is 'absent of violence' apparently because neither the media nor foreigners can visit much of it. In the 21st century, genocide masquerades as peace. It is tempting to want to boil every country down to a neat number, but when bias and thoughtlessness is built into the system of doing so, the results are no different than Durban II. The writer is a PhD student in geography at the Hebrew University and runs the Terra Incognita blog.