News of al-Qaeda bombings, ISIS crimes, and Iranian militias have stained the map of the Middle East with blood, but if we go beyond all of this, far from our stricken region, and look at the world more broadly, the rates of violence have declined unprecedentedly in human history. This means that, as human beings, we are more peaceful than our ancestors decades ago and even centuries ago, much blood was shed at times simply as a result of personal insults or even for fun.
There are no more world wars as before –the last world war was 70 years ago- and the prospect of world wars between the great powers is almost non-existent. It is well-known that the major democratic states no longer engage in wars against each other, which is precisely why Western powers seek to turn most countries into democratic ones, to reduce the likelihood of barbaric wars often erupting because of repressive regimes, e.g., those of Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, and others.
Regardless of the mistakes made by the Bush Administration in Iraq, the basic idea was to cultivate Middle Eastern democracies that enjoy freedom and the peaceful transfer of power, which would ease hatred and tension. Of course, now we see how dreamy the idea was, but the goal was to reduce violence in the foreseeable future even through the use of power for a limited time. World wars have cost more than 70 million lives, and it is difficult to see a figure of this magnitude now. The main reason for this is the rise of the United States; a liberal and capitalist global power that shaped the world in its image and prevented a new war. Due to the absence of such sweeping power, two world wars broke out in the first half of the 20th century, only a few years apart, then disappeared afterward.
Interestingly enough, it was the emerging idea of a state, which was once a cause of violence, that ultimately reduced violence, because, once the state matured and became civilized, it had edified its behavior and its official definition was its monopoly of the lawful use of force, which meant that no one else was able to use it. In the past, tribes and ethnic and religious groups enforced their laws themselves and committed large-scale killings, but the rise of the state as a single force eliminated the violence of other social and class groups and the state became the sole ruler.
Some countries are unable to confront certain tribal norms, such as honor killings, and in these places, we see an increase in violence. In addition, there are false regimes that have contributed to further violence and have allocated fully-paid entities to commit crimes. A while ago, a mob in Pakistan killed a young woman on charges of insulting the Holy Quran, a charge that later turned out to be malicious. They took the law into their own hands in the absence of the state. It is not difficult to imagine that crime and murder rates would increase if such groups became plaintiffs, judges, and executioners at the same time.
Aside from wars, armies, and countries, human violence has also declined to unprecedented levels in human history. Only a few of us will die as a result of violence, unlike before when there was a 15 percent possibility of being stabbed or strangled to death by someone else, according to scientific statistics on the causes of death in ancient times. Recent excavations have uncovered many skulls that were fractured and crushed due to violent beatings.
For the time being, the possibility of your death at the hands of someone else has greatly diminished, which psychologist Steven Pinker calls "The Better Angels of Our Nature," which means that the good side of our characters prevails over the evil side, for objective reasons, not by chance. The urbanization of human behavior due to the triumph of reason over superstition since the European Enlightenment has contributed to important and unavoidable questions about the logic of moral issues such as slavery and torture, followed by the rise of human rights, which has been the starting point for reclaiming the usurped rights of women, children, and ethnic groups, and, of course, the expansion of world trade has created this long period of peace that we live in, because of common interests and projects that increase opportunities for cooperation rather than hostility among people.
The absence of these political and intellectual developments in other regions of the world, such as the Middle East and Africa, explains the increase in the number of victims. Nevertheless, contrary to the dreamy perception of the past and the pessimistic view of reality, the grandchildren are more peaceful and civil than their forefathers and less violent, which is cause for optimism.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.