The Johan Galtung Approach to Taboo Topics

EDITORIAL, 29 Apr 2024

#846 | Marilyn Langlois – TRANSCEND Media Service

Johan Galtung, Marilyn Langlois and Graeme MacQueen
(Photo courtesy of Marilyn Langlois)

A topic that is virtually never allowed to be addressed within the hallowed halls of academia is any suggestion that the official narrative of 9/11 may not be entirely true. Self-respecting professors will not only avoid this topic like the plague, but will also prohibit anyone from discussing it in their presence, as if fearing they could be stigmatized as a “conspiracy theorist” by association. Whenever I raised pesky questions about 9/11 with my ex-husband, a scientist and professor at a top-ranked university, his curt reply, “I don’t believe in conspiracy theories,” ended the conversation. Kind of a bizarre thing to say, coming from a scientist, isn’t it?

But if inquiring minds persist, what should a principled professor do? What would Johan Galtung do?

On February 17 this year, the visionary mediator, writer, researcher and father of Peace Studies, Johan Galtung, transitioned to the ancestors, prompting heartfelt accolades from many whose minds he ignited and lives he touched, including this one by my adopted Burmese brother, Zarni, who recently joined Galtung as another worthy nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Galtung’s consistent goal was positive peace, not just the absence of war but presence of dignity, uplift and self-determination for all people, where inevitable conflicts can be transformed creatively and nonviolently. Always practical, he issued these five commandments for conflict transformation:

  1. Try to see a conflict from above: the actors, their goals, their pursuits, their clashes. Including you. You may need outside help.
  2. Try to be evenhanded. Try to see yourself or the other side of yourself as clearly as you see the others. Again, you may need help.
  3. The legitimacy test: be judgmental about goals and pursuits, ends and means, including your own. What is legitimate–legal, compatible with human rights, with basic human needs–what is not?
  4. Look at all those legitimate goals and pursuits and put your joint creativity to work: what are the minimum changes needed for a compelling vision, with maximum accommodation of all legitimate goals?
  5. Enact that vision. And if it does not work, back to No. 1. Try again. And again…and again… Perseverance is the key.

Schooled in mathematics, he loved enumerating his key points. Here are five more:

  1. To improve, compete with yourself, not with others. Don’t contribute to a society of winners and losers.
  2. Focus on the positive. The focus, positive or negative, is your choice.
  3. Use dialogue for the joint search for sustainable solutions. Ask: what does the family, school, country, region look like that you want to be a part of? Was it better before? Where did it go wrong? What is the worst thing that has happened? The worst that can happen?
  4. Be constructive, creative, concrete.
  5. With conflict-hygiene we can go a long way. Doctors have shared knowledge about washing hands and brushing teeth as hygiene; the time is ripe for conflict-hygiene. Teaching people to take care of their own health has brought us further than advanced drugs and surgical procedures.

Galtung understood that the media play a major role in mitigating or exacerbating conflict, which is why he initiated TRANSCEND Media Service, a solutions-oriented peace journalism outlet offering information and analyses that are often marginalized or censored by the mainstream, but are crucial for understanding and addressing the root causes of today’s crises.

Which leads me back to taboo topics and 9/11. Galtung didn’t actually question the dominant narrative about 9/11 himself, but he was always open to listening to other points of view. He also firmly believed that a university should be an obvious setting for controversial topics to be publicly discussed.

At a 2011 TRANSCEND symposium on alternatives to NAFTA and how Canada, the US and Mexico could better promote positive peace, hosted by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, some sidebar conversations during breaks between formal sessions turned to the topic of 9/11, perhaps because the tenth anniversary of that infamous day was approaching.

Galtung saw an opportunity to daylight the discussion and jumped on it, arranging for a panel presentation on 9/11 to be added, open not only to symposium participants but to the whole campus community and the general public. He even gave lopsided weight to the “taboo” dissident view, naming as panelists, along with himself, two 9/11 skeptics — the late acclaimed researcher Graeme MacQueen and myself.

Galtung in later years acknowledged that there was something fishy about the destruction of World Trade Center Building 7, but never fully examined the abundant evidence disproving the official story of who was behind 9/11. His analysis saw the events of the day as blowback by a handful of Middle Eastern perpetrators who enacted a public execution of the economic (World Trade Center) and military (Pentagon) nerve centers of the formidable US Empire that had wreaked such havoc on their home region. And he roundly condemned the US’ knee-jerk, bellicose response that caused many times more death and destruction while refusing any attempt to actually resolve underlying conflicts.

Graeme and I enumerated many problems with the official narrative, familiar to those in the 9/11 truth movement, that point to US government insiders’ complicity, including air defense failures; the President’s behavior; evidence for pre-planted explosives bringing down WTC 1, 2 and 7; incompetence of the alleged hijackers as pilots; confessions under torture; treatment of dissenters and whistleblowers; reluctance to form a 9/11 commission and more. We pointed out the “shock and awe” impact of events unfolding on live TV, designed to render the public vulnerable to believing whatever explanations those in authority might offer.

Graeme further elucidated the double-whammy of the false flag anthrax attacks, about which he wrote a whole book, The 2001 Anthrax Deception: The Case for a Domestic Conspiracy. He was a prolific 9/11 researcher motivated by love of humanity and a relentless search for truth. The online volume The Pentagon’s B Movie: Looking Closely at the September 11 Attacks includes a broad compendium of his writings on the topic.

All three of us — Galtung, Graeme and I — concurred that the US response to the 9/11 crimes — waging an unending “war on terror” aimed at solidifying US control in a unipolar world — was atrocious. We urged cooler heads to pay more attention to addressing the festering conflicts between the forces of empire and the rest of humanity.

The audience was attentive and the ensuing Q and A was lively. Many expressed appreciation at our airing the topic and welcoming all voices.

This piece pays homage to my friend and mentor, Professor Johan Galtung, who left us in February, as well as to my friend and mentor, Professor Graeme MacQueen, who left us one year ago.

To honor their legacy, I invite all of you who are involved in academia to open the floodgates on taboo topics, be it challenging orthodoxies on 9/11, Covid, Russia, or the Middle East. Don’t let yourselves be muzzled or intimidated, and join those courageous academics who have risked their careers to speak up. Honor the inherent purpose of institutions of higher learning, namely to expand our knowledge, consciousness and ways of looking at the world.

In order for humanity as a whole to reclaim the inordinate power and wealth currently held by those who constitute the super-rich, we must use the study of the devastating, and devastatingly fraudulent, crimes of 9/11 to shift global priorities from arming and harming to healing, while creating new realities based on equality, inclusion and solidarity.


Marilyn Langlois is a member of TRANSCEND USA West Coast. She is a volunteer community organizer and international solidarity activist based in Richmond, California.  A co-founder of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, member of Haiti Action Committee and Board member of the International Center for 9/11 Justice, she is retired from previous employment as a teacher, secretary, administrator, mediator and community advocate.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 29 Apr 2024.

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One Response to “The Johan Galtung Approach to Taboo Topics”

  1. Hi Marilyn

    A fine editorial, combining your own insight and illustrating Galtung’s ‘way’.

    And to briefly highlight and elaborate a point on which you touched in relation to taboo topics: the ‘capture’ of many University administrations and, far more often than some of us would like to believe, key faculty, whether by corporate ‘sponsorship’ or special interest lobby group pressure. In essence, the fear of reprisal, one way or another, for articulating ‘non-approved’ perspectives.

    Difficult to debate important topics when even mentioning them involves serious risk: public censure/attack, loss of funding, loss of position…. Regrettably, fewer than desirable have the courage to speak out ‘under fire’.

    To identify just three more ‘taboo’ topics in the current context: the ongoing, televised genocide in Gaza, the virtually invisible genocide of the Amhara in Ethiopia, and most profoundly for us all, the rapidly advancing technocracy: In the words of the World Economic Forum, by 2030 ‘You’ll Own Nothing. And You’ll Be Happy.’

    Anyway, given the relative silence of faculty staffs on the issue, it was great to see Yale faculty speak out against the Uni Administration in defense of the students supporting Palestine recently: ‘We write as Yale faculty to condemn the criminalization of Yale students engaged in recent acts of peaceful protest. We demand that the University administration call to drop all charges against the 48 protesters, that no further disciplinary action be taken against those who were arrested, and implore Yale to never again facilitate the arrest of protesters for acts of peaceable speech and assembly on campus. Students must be free to protest, assemble and speak on campus about the urgent moral matters of our time.’

    Indeed, some of us even once believed that this was the very purpose of a University. Obviously, we were wrong.

    So I can only wholeheartedly endorse your ‘call to [nonviolent] arms’: ‘To honor their legacy, I invite all of you who are involved in academia to open the floodgates on taboo topics, be it challenging orthodoxies on 9/11, Covid, Russia, or the Middle East. Don’t let yourselves be muzzled or intimidated, and join those courageous academics who have risked their careers to speak up. Honor the inherent purpose of institutions of higher learning, namely to expand our knowledge, consciousness and ways of looking at the world.’

    Beautifully written Marilyn.

    Love; Robert & Anita

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