Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Futility of Violence and the Need for a Counter-Community of Peace

The recent invasion and bombardment of the Gaza Strip by the Israelis is yet another example of the utter futility of war when it comes to truly resolving conflicts. While there were major demonstrations in European and U.S. cities opposing the Israeli action, the U.S. and other governments have basically stood idly by offering their spoken and tacit support for the Israeli action. Now, in Israel’s defense, Hamas, the radical Islamist group they are combating, is equally culpable when it comes to perpetuating the conflict through the use of both targeted and random violence. How many times do the Israelis and the militant Palestinian groups like Hamas have to attack and kill each other and innocent civilians before they realize there will be no winner in the conflict and no lasting peace in the region as long as war and violence is the route they choose?

On January 7, 2001, in the twilight of his presidency, Bill Clinton said in a policy speech on Israel said “there is no place for violence and no military solution to this conflict. The only path to a just and durable resolution is through negotiation.” However, in that same speech Pres. Clinton went onto say “the United States must maintain its commitment to preserving Israel’s qualitative edge in military superiority.” Now does anyone else see the inherent contradiction there? If there is no military solution, then why are we supporting and supplying their military capabilities? When you bang your head against a wall enough times, you might want to consider another approach.

I am no expert on the politics of the region, but from what I have learned from friends and colleagues who have spent time in the region and have taken time to study the conflict, three things seem very clear. First, the suffering of the average Palestinian at the hands of the Israeli military and domestic policies is morally and politically indefensible. The anger behind the Palestinian attacks has a realistic and justifiable basis, even if their actions do not. However, second, the official policy of nations like Iran and Syria, and their surrogates like Hamas, give Israel the justification to defend itself, even if their means of defending themselves is unjustified. Third, the United States’ policy of blindly supporting Israel in such actions as have recently occurred, only fuels the endless cycle of violence and drives the possibility of resolution further away.

This recent crisis is yet another challenge to pacifists and other people committed to the way of peace to raise our voices about the inability of war and violence to bring about justice and lasting peace. Shortly after the September 11, 2001 bombings, Stanley Hauerwas, theologian and ethicist from Duke University, wrote an essay to a primarily Christian audience which he called a “pacifist response” to the bombings. When questioned about the alternative he would propose to the current U.S. practice of responding to violence with violence, he wrote: “Such questions assume that pacifists must have an alternative foreign policy. I have something better – a church constituted by people who would rather die than kill” (Performing the Faith, p. 206). His words refer to the fact that we who believe in peace must be like the Christian Peacemaker Teams and Witness for Peace teams that literally put themselves in between warring factions, in an effort to force warring parties to seek another way. He is saying that if there was a community of people committed to the way of peace to the degree that our government is committed to war, we might see a different result.

In speaking of Osama bin Laden Hauerwas said: “Indeed, I fear that absent a counter-community to challenge America, bin laden has given Americans what they so desperately needed – a war without end. America is a country that lives off the moral capital of our wars” (Performing the Faith, p. 207). In the same vein groups like Hamas, and nations like Israel, give each other the moral justification to be at war continually and endlessly, when in fact those wars are totally and completely morally bankrupt.

We who believe in alternatives to war and violence, be it from religious or humanist convictions, must be willing to model in our daily life, as well as our political actions, a perspective that rejects war as a means to resolving conflict. The last 60 years of the Israeli-Arab conflict is exhibit A of the futility of that approach.

Some years ago, in the late 1980’s there was a proposal put forth in a Congressional bill to establish a national Peace Academy in the same vein as the national military academies. Obviously, that proposal never went very far on the government levels, but there are think tanks such as the Carter Center in Atlanta and the The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University that have taken seriously the charge to find alternative ways. Moreover, there are numerous groups and individuals such as Jimmy Carter, the World Elders founded by Nelson Mandela, and Dan Buttry of the American Baptist Churches, who work tirelessly to help local and national groups find peaceful resolutions. We need to know and hear of these folks. We need to become that “counter-community” Hauerwas talks about. We need to say loud and clear: Enough with war, let us seek another way.


Anonymous said...

I'm struggling with this issue. How do you make peace with an organization (Hamas) whose stated covenant (in their Charter) is to "obliterate" Israel, and who considers negotiations a waste of time? --KJ

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of peaceful negotiations to end conflicts. Sadly I'm not sure how effective it really is. Think of how the Americas' native population was over-run and killed. Seems as if a negative and a positive equal a negative.