Saturday, August 12, 2006

The cycle of violence...

I'm feeling pretty upset about the situation in the Middle East right now, particularly because of all the Kool-aid that is being drunk by all the various parties.

We can talk endlessly about claims and counterclaims. It's supposedly anti-semitic to say that Israel shouldn't be bombing Lebanon into the stone age; I'm not sure I get that reasoning, but whatever. Supposedly even admitting to the possibility that Israel is in the wrong here means that I'm saying it's okay for Hezbollah to kill people. So I've been told.

Someone asked the question, "why is what Hezbollah did somehow just, when Israel defending itself is not?"

Hezbollah killing people is unjust. Israel killing people is unjust. Justice would be if, when someone was killed, you could kill the person who killed them, and the original victim would be restored to life. But we all know that isn't what happens. What happens is that you have another dead body.

So then the next argument, maybe, is that some killings are just, and some aren't. But if you make that argument, then you have effectively admitted that no killing is just. Why? Because for any given killing, we have two ways of looking at it. If we loved the person who was killed, we will call for the death of the person who did the killing. And if we hated the person who was killed, then we consider the killing just. So the killing is just or unjust in the eye of the beholder.

This passionate way of looking at killing doesn't work, because it's a mirror. For any given killing done in the name of justice, there will be those who think it was just, and those who will think it demands retribution. And this begets another killing done in the name of justice, by the opposite side. And so on. And this cycle can never stop, because of the simple fact that we have adopted the belief that some killings are just and some aren't.

If, on the other hand, we accept that no killing is ever just, then this breaks the cycle. Whether or not we loved the person who was killed, we see that killing the one who did the killing in return is an unjust act. So we do not kill that person. And this short-circuits the cycle.

A naive response to this would be to say "but if you don't kill the killer, the killer will keep on killing." On the one hand, this might be true. But even if it is true, violence is a cycle - it doesn't stop at the killing that we think is just: it keeps on going, because someone will disagree that our just killing was really just. So killing the killer doesn't help.

On the other hand, there are alternatives to killing the killer. They are not safe alternatives. Waging peace costs lives. Consider this: what if instead of embargoing Iraq, we had gone in with food? What if we had competed with the Hussein government? Knowing that it would cost American lives to do so. What if we had gone in with cameras and food and water, and fed people, and tried to help people, and televised every single person who was killed doing this?

To quote Martin Luther King:

“A second basic fact that characterizes nonviolence is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that these are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent … The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”

And further:

“A fourth point that characterizes nonviolent resistance is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back. ‘Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood,’ Gandhi said to his countrymen. The nonviolent resister … does not seek to dodge jail. If going to jail is necessary, he enters it ‘as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chamber…’”

So the point of this is not to put forth some kind of unrealistic idea about warfare. People die in wars. But the idea that killing can be just is what allows us to get in wars in the first place. It is this idea that must die. Retaliation, whether it is for the risk that our cousins in Tel Aviv suffer, or for the sorrow we felt when the World Trade Towers fell, is not just.


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