Monday, 2 May 2011

Peace! Pax! Enough! Find another way!

I was saddened and disturbed by this afternoons news of the assassination of Bin Laden.  I never knew any good to come of this sort of action; it seems likely to achieve little more than provoking renewed violence and hatred.  Such leaders do not themselves kill but incite others to do so.  What of these people, of their families and friends?  Is Bin Laden's killing really justice for those killed in terrorist attacks?  It doesn't look that way to me.  It seems to me that this action is more likely to bring about the birth of a modern day Hydra, a many headed monster, which grows two heads for every one cut off.  I hope this is not the case but don't count on it.  There seem to be a number of these in the world already.

I was dismayed to hear one American commentator speak of how he had been in conversation with the Pope soon after the bombing in New York, and quoted the Pope as saying that the perpetrators must be stopped, and took this as a Catholic mandate for the launching of war in Afghanistan.  This is a mis-construction: a much loved Catholic priest said in my hearing that Papal authorities specifically petitioned the White House against the war response on the basis that it was not Christian.  It is disappointing that this was not made widely known.

Many Americans stand righteously by their Christianity, and in particular by the religious observances of their presidents, yet in the Bible different passages from divergent times in history speak very directly against killing and retribution:

It's one of the ten commandments of the Old Testament as given by God to Moses:
"You shall not kill" (Deutronomy 5 : 17)
 Jesus spoke about a constructive response to harm:
"But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your cloak do not withhold your coat as well.  Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.  And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. 
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 
"Judge not, and you will not be judged ; condemn not, and you will not be condemned, forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.   For the measure you give will be the measure you get back." (Luke 6 : 27 - 37)
 Paul in Romans (12 : 14) has this to say:
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who are rejoicing, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited.  Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head."  Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good."
While I am not a practising Christian, I do deeply respect the principles of non-violence and the pursuit of more creative solutions.  Those who know me know that I struggle with these issues as much as anyone, with the wish to strike back and answer harm with harm.  There is no suggestion that the course of action described above is an easy one.  On the other hand, looked at in practical terms, striking back for revenge or to even a score achieves little other than further destruction, and indeed often escalates it. 

I believe our species needs to look freshly at these old lessons about the responses we choose in response to injury and harm.  Until the followers and soldiers of violent individuals find greater satisfaction in peaceful means than in the continued infliction of violence on others we are all doomed to continued suffering. 

Even Winston Churchill, whose quotable quotes on war themes abound, said:
"To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war"
He made this statement in a speech at the White House on 26th June, 1954.  It was quoted in the New York Times of 27th June.

War might have some credibility if it resolved conflicts in short order and didn't create ruinous death, debt and destruction to all concerned, but unfortunately that is not the case. 

I don't see that we can afford to be complacent.  If we continue on our present course, war will certainly cost us the Earth, and I mean that quite literally.  So let's not gloat about one dead man, and instead apply ourselves to finding more wholesome ways to occupy our time, energy and attention. 

I switched off the news and turned back to my recording of last weeks wedding of William and Kate.  Kate's brother James gave this timely reading from 'Romans', of which I have included part above:

Peace everyone, peace, peace, peace.

Later Notes ~ 4th and 8th May: 
(1) The following quote from Martin Luther King, Jnr. has been circulating widely as a response to the above news:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition…. The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

The sentence which has been widely quoted as being part of it: "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy", originated elsewhere from someone who expressed that sentiment prior to quoting Martin Luther King.  I see it as a worthy accompaniment however.

(2) The article Beyond Retaliation, published on the Common website on 3rd May is well worth reading: it puts the war in Afghanistan into perspective in terms of how much it has cost Afghanistan as well as America - It's been ruinous for both but far worse in Afghanistan.  

(3) I fully agree with this article: 'The psychology of revenge: why we should stop celebrating Osama bin Laden's death' published in the Huffington Post, 2nd May 2011

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