Saturday, August 09, 2014

169.4 - Nonviolence and Me, Part 4

Nonviolence and Me, Part 4

[This week's show was one long discussion of my commitment to nonviolence. For ease of reading, I have broken it into five parts, this being the fourth.]

Consider these quotes:
Those who organized this provocation deliberately desired a further aggravation of the international situation by striving to smear us, sow hostility towards us, and cast aspersions on our peace-loving policies.
Something said by, who, I don't know, maybe the rebels in Ukraine? Or maybe about those rebels? Neither. It’s from a TASS wire service dispatch, September 3, 1983. It’s about the US. save the freedom of the world, to save liberty, to save the honor of women and children, everyone who loves freedom and honor, everyone who puts principle before ease and life itself before mere living, is banded in a great crusade - we cannot deny it - to kill Muslims, to kill them not for the sake of killing but to save the kill them lest the civilization of the world itself be killed.
Other than being blunter than most, is this truly different from many sentiments expressed during our so-called War on Terror? But in the original version, "Muslims" was "Germans," and the quote is from a sermon preached by the Bishop of London during World War I.
We concur in considering [them] totally without morality, insolent beyond bearing, inflated with vanity and ambition aiming at the exclusive domination of the world, lost in corruption, of deep-rooted hatred toward us, hostile to liberty wherever it endeavors to show its head, and the eternal disturber of the peace of the world.
The style may be stilted, but I'd defy anyone to tell me any fundamental difference between these sentiments and those directed against Hamas to justify the attack on Gaza - or, for that matter, any different from those directed against Jews by any number of anti-Semites across the ages. But the year was 1815, the speaker was President Thomas Jefferson, and the "them" in question was Great Britain.

It's always the same. Every time, the same arguments are trotted out. "They" are evil, immoral, corrupt, cruel; "they" can’t be trusted; "they" understand only force; "they" don’t respect human life the way we do; it’s sad, but "they" have given us no choice; blah, blah, and more blah, as we go about convincing ourselves that "they" are "other," are fundamentally different, and when we kill them - except we don't, do we, no, instead we "secure targets" and "achieve objectives" and "deny the enemy resources" - and when we kill them we imagine that there are none left behind to mourn, for the "other" has no wife or husband, no sons or daughters, no sisters or brothers, no parents, no aunts or uncles or grandparents or cousins or friends or neighbors or colleagues or co-workers, they are merely an instrumentality of the enemy, denied their humanity so they may be denied their life, because "they" are "other" and so not really "alive," not like "we" are.

It has been charged that nonviolence gives "fear and hatred an opportunity to triumph." Well, I say that with murderous violence, fear and hatred always triumph. I say that might does not make right. I say that the ends do not justify the means - which, no matter how many colors are cast on it, is still the primer under the entire argument - but they are affected by them.

I say that humanity cannot be conveniently divided into our friends, the victimized innocents, and our foes, the venal infidels. That war solves no problems except as it replaces them with new ones; that mass murder does not bring any peace except that of the graveyard; that hatreds do not produce love; that a river of blood, no matter how thick, deep, wide, or red, does not, cannot, will not mark the path to justice. Because justice must be justice for "them" as well as for "us," for "enemy" the same as for "friend," or it's not justice at all but mere favoritism.

Ultimately, I agree with Gandhi's statement that "the only thing worse than violence is cowardly refusal to act in the face of injustice. But nonviolent action is always superior to violent action."

Contrary to the underlying, unspoken conviction of those who, despite their claims to the contrary, do endorse mass violence, pacifism does not mean passivity and nonviolence does not mean non-action; they do not involve, as I was once accused of advocating, allowing ourselves to "get butchered" in order to "be morally superior."

Let me be clear: I believe we are responsible for that which we approve, and that applies to me as much as to others; perhaps more so because I make the choice so consciously. I know the course I've chosen carries risks, that nonviolent action isn't "safe," that it may (and for some in some circumstances surely would) involve risking one's life, and that the greatest risk is that of failure, of seeing injustice ascendant.

But every one of those risks applies equally strongly to violent action, which carries the added risks, risks so often realized they're less risks than a process, of destroying that which you say you'd save and of becoming that which you say you oppose.

Nonviolent action is not without risk, not without pain, not without suffering, and aggressive nonviolent techniques - such as economic sanctions - can put such pain and suffering on others, including innocents.

No, there are no ironclad guarantees of success, and yes, there would be losses as well as victories. But all of that - all of that, despite any romanticized notions to the contrary - is equally true of violence.

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