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sakina breaks a toy gun

Burying Guns; Planting Peace In Afghanistan

Editor’s Note: This article, written by Dr. Hakim, was submitted by contributing author Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

10 year old Sakina, an Afghan street kid, had this to say, “I don’t like to be in a world of war. I like to be in a world of peace.”

On 27th August 2015, Sakina and Inam, with fellow Afghan street kids and the Afghan Peace Volunteers, held a mock funeral for weapons and celebrated the establishment of a green space in Kabul.

Dressed in long black coats, they broke and buried toy guns in a small spot where, over the past two years, they have been planting trees.

Inam, a bright-eyed ten year old, caught the group’s energetic desire to build a world without war. “I kept toy guns till about three years ago,” he acknowledged with a smile.

On the same day, Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias Sanchez, ex-President of Costa Rica, was in Mexico for the Arms Trade Treaty’s First Conference of States Parties.

In his statement at the Conference, he told the story of an indigenous Guatemalan woman who thanked him for negotiating a peace accord 28 years ago. The mother had said, “Thank you, Mr. President, for my child who is in the mountains fighting, and for the child I carry in my womb.”

No mother, Guatemalan or Afghan, wants her children to be killed in war.

Oscar Arias Sanchez wrote: “I never met them, but those children of conflict are never far from my thoughts. They were its (the peace treaty’s) true authors, its reason for being.”

I’m confident that the children of Afghanistan were also in his thoughts, especially since he had a brief personal connection with the Afghan Peace Volunteers in 2014, having been part of a Peace Jam video message of solidarity to the Volunteers, wearing their Borderfree Blue Scarves which symbolize that ‘all human beings live under the same blue sky’.

I thank Mr Oscar Arias Sanchez for his important work on the Arms Trade Treaty, though I sense that an arms trade treaty isn’t going to be enough.

Afghan children are dying from the use of weapons.

To survive, they need a ban against weapons. Regulations about buying and selling weapons perpetuate a trade that is killing them.

I saw Inam and other child laborers who work in Kabul’s streets decisively swing hammers down on the plastic toy guns, breaking off triggers, scattering nozzles into useless pieces and symbolically breaking our adult addiction to weapons.

Children shouldn’t have to pay the price for our usual business, especially business from the U.S., the largest arms seller in the world. U.S. children suffer too, with more U.S. people having died as a result of gun violence since 1968 than have died in all U.S. wars combined. U.S. weapon sellers are killing their own people; by exporting their state-of-the-art weapons, they facilitate the killing of many others around the world.

After burying the toy guns, surrounded by the evergreen and poplar trees which they had planted, the youth shed their black coats and donned sky-blue scarves.

Another world was appearing as Sakina and Inam watched young friends plant one more evergreen sapling.

Inam watches an evergreen tree being planted.

Inam watches an evergreen tree being planted.

Inam knew that it hasn’t been easy to create this green space in heavily fortified Kabul.

The City Municipality said they couldn’t water the trees (though it is just 200 metres away from their office). The Greenery Department weren’t helpful. Finally, the security guards of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission just across from the garden, offered to help, after the Volunteers had provided them with a 100-metre water hose.

Rohullah, who coordinates the environment team at the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre, expressed his frustration. “Once, we had to hire a private water delivery service to water the tree saplings so they wouldn’t shrivel up. None of the government departments could assist.”

Sighing, he added ironically, “We can’t use the Kabul River tributary running just next to the Garden, as the trash-laden trickle of black, bracken water is smelly and filthy.”

Meanwhile, in the rest of the country, according to figures from the National Priorities Project, a non-profit, non-partisan U.S. federal budget research group, the ongoing Afghan War is costing American taxpayers US $4 million an hour.

It is the youth and children who are making sense today, like when Nobel Laureate Malalai Yousafzai said recently that if the whole world stopped spending money on the military for just 8 days, we could provide 12 years of free, quality education for every child on the planet.

“I don’t like to work in the streets, but my family needs bread. Usually, I feel sad,” Inam said, looking away, “because I feel a sort of helplessness.”

Oscar Arias Sanchez said at the Arms Trade Treaty’s First Conference, “And we must speak, today – in favour of this crucial treaty, and its swift and effective implementation. If we do, then when today’s children of conflict look to us for guidance and leadership, we will no longer look away in shame. We will be able to tell them, at long last, that we are standing watch for them. We are on guard. Someone is finally ready to take action.”

Sakina tells the world

Sakina tells the world.

That morning, I heard the voices of Sakina, Inam and the Afghan youth ring through the street, “#Enough of war!”

It wasn’t a protest. It was the hands-on building of a green spot without weapons, and an encouraging call for others to do so everywhere.

Through their dramatic colours and clear action, they were inviting all of us, “Bury your weapons. Build your gardens.”

“We will stand watch for you!”

 

Hakim, ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 10 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

Top Image:  “Sakina breaks a toy gun.” All images submitted with original article.

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Hold On Until Love Wins

I was working on another article, but I can’t concentrate on it now. It’s hard to concentrate in a world with so much hatred, so much distrust, so much fear, and so much senseless murder.

I wonder how many people worldwide are shocked out of their daily routine by a tragedy. I wonder how many people must plow through their daily routines that tragedy is a part of.

The news is still coming in about a shooting in my home state of Virginia. A reporter and cameraman were shot on air not far from where I went to college. The families of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward are in mourning. And now perhaps the family of Vester Flanagan, the shooter who shot himself as police caught up to him and died after being taken to the hospital, is in mourning as well. My anxieties about a shooter loose in my home state have been quelled, but the overwhelming sorrow is just beginning to overflow.

I am in mourning for our broken world, ready to despair of hope that it can be repaired. And I recognize that even that despair, and the temporary paralysis that comes with it, is a luxury, because all over the world there are those who live in constant states of degradation, oppression and terror, who must somehow go about their lives anyway. Those living in the midst of war must somehow try to make a living despite the destruction and loss that has become a normal part of life, whatever the hell normal might mean. Babies and grandparents are struck with drones. Limbs are blown apart. People are slowly rotting away from malnutrition or dying from exposure because we can’t find the money to feed them or repair their destroyed homes, even as we spend more money to kill them. Throughout the world, weapons made right here are killing people on all sides of all conflicts, and in some parts of the world we are taking a more direct role in the destruction. The Global War on Terror rages on. And all over the world, the pain and horror and grief that has struck my heart so deeply today strikes so many hearts that must beat on in the midst of this churning machine of violence that we have turned the world into.

We do all of this in the name of national security, of course.

But we are a frightened, insecure nation.

We have nurtured an enemy mentality that pits us against the world (even as we justify our violence by claiming to be a force for protection in the world.) And the violence we export abroad is taking its toll on us. It’s been taking its toll on us for a long, long time, eroding our souls with every weapon made, let alone used, to destroy another child of God, either half a world away or right next door. How could a nation that spends more money than any other in the world, more than most of the world combined, on the military, not be infected by a culture of violence? How can we spend billions on bombs and guns and drones and missiles while neglecting the necessary funds for education and housing and healthcare, and claim to respect life? How can our leaders instruct us to kill abroad and be surprised when we find no other way to handle our problems here at home? How can we demand respect for human dignity while we continually glorify violence that tears human beings apart? How can we respect life while waging death?

As long as we live in fear and glorify violence, we can’t be surprised that efforts for gun control go nowhere. Of course we need gun control, but we also need to control our addiction to the myth that peace can be waged through violence. I can’t think of any myth that has so thoroughly duped humanity as the satanic lie that peace can be bought from sacrifice – from murder and war. The notion of a war to end all wars, a permanent peace arising from the rubble of destruction and death, is so demonstrably false. The house divided against itself is our own world, and we cannot stand like this. Will we keep hurtling ourselves headfirst toward our own destruction, putting our faith in instruments of death?

We live in a deadly world and we keep making it deadlier. So we are afraid, and we cling to our guns, and when someone poisoned by the idolatry of violence fires one of those guns, fearful people cling ever more tightly to their guns. When our own government clings to its nuclear arsenal in the name of “deterrence,” how can we expect anything less of citizens?

So I am weighed down by sorrow as today’s shooting mercilessly steals lives and accelerates the whirlwind forces of this cycle of violence spinning out of control. But I can’t wallow. Because my toddler is awake, and I have picked up my first-grader from school. How truly, truly blessed I am to be able to hold my children close, to know my husband will be returning from work, to still have the peace of mind to be reasonably sure that my loved ones will make it through another day safe and sound.

Too many people around the world live without the luxury of knowing their loved ones will return safely to them at the end of the day. Too many people in our own nation live without that luxury, as African Americans find it necessary to complete the sentence “If I die in police custody…” And increasingly, we are living in a nation where all of our security is disintegrating into a hollow illusion. We cannot be secure when we put our trust in violence.

But if today you have the blessed opportunity to hold your loved ones in your arms, do not let them go. In a hopeless world, find hope in the faces of those who love you, and radiate it back to them. The only way we are going to bring peace to this battered, shattered world is to make those human connections, and nurture the ones that we already have. If you believe in God, that’s where you find God, and if you don’t, well, that’s OK, as long as you believe in Love, because it’s the same thing. Hold on to your loved ones, dear friends. Hold them and see in their eyes the joy of a future filled with the love they bring to the world. Hold them until you can’t imagine a world in which anyone has to go without holding their own loved ones. Then go out and shout, strive, struggle to create that world, and when despair inevitably rears its ugly head, go back to their arms to revive your hope. Be those arms for someone who has lost a loved one to violence. Be love, and hold on in love to those who need love. Hold on until love wins.

Featured Image: Screenshot of “Reporter and Cameraman Gunned Down During Live TV In Virginia Shooting” AJ+ via Youtube.

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The Imitation Game: US-Iran Relations

We now have an agreement with Iran to restrain their pursuit of nuclear weapons, but just how good a deal is it? President Obama, congress, presidential contenders, and political commentators are debating that right now. Sojourners offers clear-eyed support for the deal as “better than the alternatives” and clearly better than military strikes which “would be, at best, premature, as well as highly unpredictable and morally irresponsible in creating yet another U.S. war with a Muslim country.”

Even so, Sojourner’s President Jim Wallis has written that he has no doubt that Iran is “an enemy of America, an enemy of Israel, and an enemy of peace.” But as a Christian, he also believes that “you need to find ways to make peace with your enemies.” This deal, for Jim Wallis anyway, seems to be a way to do that. But how do you make peace with a nation that is not just our enemy, but an enemy of peace itself?

Just what is an enemy? We don’t often ask that question because we think the answer is obvious: enemies are bad guys who hate us for no good reason. An enemy is so unlike us that we compare ourselves to them in terms of opposites: rational/ irrational, nonviolent/ violent, law abiding/ criminal, and just/ unjust. We believe that we and our enemy have absolutely nothing in common except perhaps a shared desire to defeat the other.

The Terrible Twos: A Parable

But I think that way of thinking about enemies is just plain wrong. The cause of the mistake is a basic misunderstanding of human psychology, specifically the psychology of desire. Our enemies are not our opposites; they are the mirror image of our desires. In this way, “an enemy” is not someone separate and distinct from us, rather they are a product of our relationship with them. The best way I know of illustrating this is with a story about desire in my 2-year-old granddaughter, Grace.

Grace is at that “terrible” age when her desires often seem at odds with the adults around her. But mostly she’s not as terrible as just annoying. Like when she won’t eat her own food but devours what’s on her mom’s plate or when she wants to “help” fold the clothes. Like all terrible twos, Grace is an imitator on steroids. Whatever we do, that’s what she wants to do, too. Which is how she learns to do things, of course. Grace is learning how to be a grown-up by imitating grown-ups. Which is natural and good, not terrible at all.

The terrible kicks in when Grace seems to be determined to do the opposite of what we want. For example, when we try to do something we think she needs help with, like pour her milk, she screams, which is her wordless version of, “You’re not the boss of me!” If we insist on pouring the milk for her, it leads to the dreaded power struggle. Hey, what parent hasn’t gotten into a tug of war over pouring milk or bedtime or what to wear to school, and lost?! Our kids seem determined to defy us just for the sport of it and it’s hard not to feel that our sweet two-year-old has turned into a demon child.

But here’s the catch: Grace’s defiance is also an act of imitation except that she’s imitating something we want to keep sole possession of: the power to decide things for ourselves. Get it? When mom displays her own ability to make decisions and impose her will on Grace, Grace will have none of it. She wants to be just like mommy in everything, including being the boss of herself! In fact, the more we refuse to share the privilege of being her boss, the more desirable it becomes to her. We would never call Grace our enemy, but boy oh boy, it sure does feel like it sometimes!

The Psychology of Desire

This is just basic desire psychology. The thing we won’t share is the thing we most value and that will provoke desire in others. So what does this have to do with Iran, the so-called enemy of the U.S.? Iran may be our enemy, but her desire for nuclear weapons is, in fact, a perfect imitation of our own. I am not discounting the dangers to U.S. security if nuclear weapons get into the wrong hands. No hands could be more wrong than those of an enemy, especially one that is also an “enemy of peace”. But the U.S. may risk becoming an enemy of peace as well when it blames others for desires they learned from us.

Let me be clear: Iran is no more a child than we are. We are equals, mirror images of each other’s desires for nuclear weapons and global respect. I’m no expert in diplomacy or nuclear policy, but I do know that conflict begins with shared desires. Ironically, so does friendship. The difference between enemies and friends is that friends enjoying sharing desires and enemies deny it’s happening. Remember, if Iran refuses to relinquish their desire for nuclear weapons, it’s not defiance; it’s imitation. And yet it may be easier than we think to follow Jim Wallis’ advice to find a way to make peace with this particular enemy. The path is obvious and available to us: we can renounce our desire for a nuclear arsenal. That’s a desire worth sharing and enjoying with friends.

 

Image: Copyright: David Carillet via 123rf.com

The Girl and Emperor Palpatine.

My Daughter, the Star Wars Myth, and Jesus – How to Defeat Evil

I recently dropped my daughter off at her elementary school’s summer kindergarten program. When I opened the side door of our mini-van, the Girl* had a huge smile on her face as she held up a Darth Sidious Pez Dispenser.

I was a little shocked by the juxtaposition of my daughter and Darth Sidious – who is arguably the greatest fictional depiction of pure evil during the last 35 years. I was shocked partly because I have no idea where that Pez Dispenser came from. I didn’t buy it, but somehow it appeared in our van that day.

But I was also shocked because the Girl was all smiles and feeling a sense of joy as she held up this ugly sign of evil. Wookipedia states that Darth Sidious “was evil incarnate” and “the living incarnation of the dark side of the Force.”

I’m biased, but I think the Girl is adorable and all things good. And there she is, smiling and holding this symbol of “evil incarnate.”

In that moment, I think my daughter taught me something about defeating evil.

The Star Wars Myth

I grew up watching the original trilogy. Sometimes I would pretend to be sick on Sunday mornings so I wouldn’t have to go to church. When I heard my parents start their car, I’d run to our living room and play a Star Wars movie on our VCR. (I know. I’m old.) Star Wars had a mythical, even religious, element for me.

I still love the Star Wars saga, but as I discovered mimetic theory, I began to see it with different eyes. Star Wars is based on a myth, a lie that tries to conceal the truth about violence. Now, there is moral nuance within Star Wars when it comes to violence. For example, after Luke defeats Darth Vader in Episode VI, he refuses to kill him. This act of nonviolence puts Luke in jeopardy as Darth Sidious nearly kills him with lightning bolts, but Luke’s act of nonviolent mercy converts Darth Vader to the “good guys.” Darth Vader then saves Luke by killing Darth Sidious.

That dramatic scene sums up the myth behind Star Wars. Walter Wink calls it the “myth of redemptive violence.” In his book, The Powers that Be, Wink describes the myth of redemptive violence as, “the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.”

When we are under the spell of the myth of redemptive violence, we think that our “good violence” will save us from our enemies “bad violence.” Thus, Darth Vader saves Luke with “good violence” by killing Darth Sidious. But if there is a truth that emerges from the Star Wars myth, it’s that “good violence” never actually solves the problem of evil; rather, it gives evil the oxygen it needs to spread. And so, even though the evil Darth Sidious was killed and Darth Vader converted, the truth is that Jedi violence never solves the problem of evil. Thus, we have three more movies coming out. (And I cannot wait!)

René Girard, the founder of mimetic theory, points to the utter futility of violence in his book Battling to the End. Violence is futile because it functions to perpetuate itself. He claims that “it is impossible to eliminate violence through violence.” He goes on to give an apocalyptic warning, “Sooner or later, either humanity will renounce violence without sacrifice or it will destroy the planet.”

How to Defeat Evil

But if violence doesn’t work to defeat evil, what does? In holding the Darth Sidious Pez Dispenser, my daughter gives us a clue. The more we fight evil on its own violent terms, the more we become the very evil we attempt to defeat. But there are alternatives to defeating evil. What if we had posture towards evil that didn’t combat it with our own violence, or run away from it in fear, but gently held it in our hands?

Christians believe that Jesus definitively defeated the forces of evil. For Christians, faith is trusting that the way to defeat evil is the same way that Jesus defeated evil on the cross and in the resurrection. Jesus was no Jedi. He didn’t use “good violence” to protect himself or others from the evil forces that converged against him. Nor did he run from evil. Rather, he defeated evil by entering into it, forgiving it on the cross, and offering peace to it in the resurrection.

Of course, many – even those who profess to follow him – think Jesus is absolutely crazy. As the apostle Paul wrote, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” It’s true that following Jesus by responding to evil with nonviolent love is risky. After all, Christ was killed, as were his disciples. But fighting violence with violence is also risky and only perpetuates a mimetic cycle of violence.

The myth of redemptive violence still permeates our culture. We see it everywhere: In cartoons, movies, and politics. But the myth is losing its force as more people are seeing through its lies and realizing that violence can no longer defeat violence.

Although the forces of evil were defeated on the cross and in the resurrection, evil is obviously still present with us today. Unfortunately, many Christians have more faith in violence to defeat that evil than they do in Jesus Christ. But true Christian faith trusts that Jesus had it right.

The way to defeat evil is to nonviolently love our enemies as we love ourselves.

The way to defeat evil is to forgive it.

The way to defeat evil is to trust that God doesn’t defeat evil through violently taking life, but by restoring life.

*I don’t use the real names of my children on the blog, so I call them “The Girl,” “Boy 1,” and “Boy 2.”

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American Christianity’s Great Scapegoat (Part II)

In Part I of this series, I discussed how many within “mainstream” Western Christianity believe the LGBT community—more specifically, the recent SCOTUS decision on marriage equality—is to blame for the imminent judgment on America. In this entry, I would like to mention how those in the Muslim faith appear to be included among those charged with causing the “fall of America.”

The hyperbolic rhetoric used to talk about over 1.6 billion Muslims is just as head-scratching as that which is used to describe the roughly 9 million LGBT Americans. Radio host Rick Wiles recently stated that “millions of Americans will die in one day in this country” at the hands of Muslim-Americans, whose only goal is “to slaughter the people who do not convert to Islam.” We hear statements like this over and over, predominantly by those on the Christian right. I do not wish to demonize those who make such claims, but what I do want to do is shed light on the fact that this is nothing more than extreme hyperbole. Sure, there are those for whom that statement would be true. However, as I will point out in the following paragraph, this is not the goal of the Muslim faith. Furthermore, a statement like Wiles’ is a double-edged sword. Given his logic, one could point to recent Lafayette shooter, John Russell Houser, who, in 2013 tweeted, “The Westboro Baptist Church may be the last real church in America (members not brainwashed [sic])” and conclude, “the goal of Christianity is to slaughter the people who do not accept Christ.” Both claims are nonsense.

The goal of any religion, broadly speaking, will depend upon how one interprets matters. Some religions have sacred texts. Some don’t agree on what is supposed to be “sacred text.” Some religions have varying views of God, or gods, if the case may be. The Muslim faith, then, is no different. Sure, on one extreme, is ISIS (and groups similar). They have a specific goal in mind, which involves radical violence. On the other hand, however, you have a group like the Sufi Muslims. One such Sufi is Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, whom I mention in my forthcoming book, All Set Free. His understanding of Islam is beautifully summed up in the following:

Peace, unity, equality . . . when we are in one place, when we live in one place, eat in one place, sleep in one place, and when we finally join together in heaven in one place, that is unity. Even when we go to that (final) place, we all live together in freedom as one family, one group. In this world and in the next world we live together in freedom, as one family of peace. This is Islam. If we find this way of peace, this is Islam. – (Muhaiyaddeen, God’s Psychology, 218)

There should be no denying the plain truth that within various faiths, there are debates among adherents as to what constitutes “correct theology.” Just because a Christian makes an ethical, moral, or theological claim or performs a “God-mandated” action, does not mean all Christians are in agreement. Likewise, just because a Muslim makes an ethical, moral, or theological claim or performs an “Allah-mandated” action, does not mean all Muslims are in agreement either. (“Allah,” it must be noted, is an Arabic word simply meaning “the One God,” and is used by Arab Christians as well as Muslims). There seems to be a more accurate common denominator for the violence.

It does not matter if God is named YHWH or Allah, Zeus or Athena, if s/he is believed to be violent, then those who follow will likely be more tolerant of violence. In fact, in more extreme cases, followers of that god will eagerly engage in violence themselves. One problem with this belief is that when violence is justified—when an eye for an eye is how those religious interpretations operate for individuals and nations—they will, in reality, often ramp up the violence. (See the studies done by the University of Texas—sourced from Hardin, The Jesus Driven Life, 142–43).

This leads to all manners of madness!

This also seems to be the case with the perpetual conflict in the Middle East.

So, what is the answer to this conflict that seems to never end? Well, I believe Jesus gives us the answer to that question—do not engage in retributive violence. Or, directly in his words: “Do not resist an evildoer” (Matthew 5:39).

Although the blame for the violence should be equally shared with all who engage in the violence, the supposed “Christian nation” should at least model what a Christ-like foreign policy looks like. Should it not? Yet, the United States seems to be right in the middle of the violence—not “set apart” from others who are involved. If leaders truly want the United States to be known as a “Christian nation,” should they not “turn the other cheek?” Should the United States not love those labeled “enemy?”

I realize the relationships between nations are not simple. But, shouldn’t nations who claim to desire peace not at least consider that one’s belief in God literally will be a matter of “peace” and “war?” If we can recognize there is a correlation between violence and our theology, shouldn’t we begin to take more seriously the idea that God is not violent? It seems that belief might then lead to more peaceful interactions between nations. I think there is enough experiential evidence that one’s faith dictates one’s ethics. We witness it over and over—history seemingly repeating herself ad infinitum.

One should not blame the entire Muslim faith in the same way one should not blame the entire Christian or Jewish faith for the violence and acts of terrorism. The common link between the violence is the belief in a violent God—one who vanquishes enemies and blesses those willing to die for the cause. At some point, someone is going to have to end the cycle of violence. My hope is that it will be those who claim to have the very model to do just that. Jesus had legions of angels to unleash on the Romans, yet he kept them at bay (Matthew 26:53). A “Christian nation” should follow suit.

Don’t we see where perpetual war has taken us?

Can’t we try peace yet?

I pray daily for that.

Shalom. Salam. Peace.

Image Credit: Stock vector of world religions connected by international peace symbol. By casejustin via 123rf.com.

Copyright: kagenmi / 123RF Stock Photo

The Iran Deal and American Self-Deception

Politicians and pundits on both sides of the American political divide are debating the merits of President Obama’s deal with Iran. While Obama claims he has forestalled an Iranian nuclear weapon for at least another 10 years with unprecedented weapons inspection, Republicans state that the deal will only encourage the world’s most dangerous sponsor of terrorism.

Only time will tell us about the merits of the deal. For now, I’m interested in the response from our Republican presidential candidates.

The Republican candidates are swirling around, trying to point the finger at the greatest enemy of the United States. Is it the dreaded Mexican immigrants? (Gasp!) Or is it the terrorism that Iran threatens to unleash upon the globe? (Double gasp!)

American Terrorism

Forgive me if it looks like I’m picking on the Republicans. After all, this is American politics per usual. And maybe it’s just human politics. But Republican candidates in particular are trying to convince us that there is an extremely dangerous enemy out there that threatens our freedom. But that’s not all. They are also trying to convince us that the Democrats are enabling our enemies. And so we should vote for Republicans because they will be tough on our enemies.

This response from the Republicans is an act of American self-deception. They, and we the American people, should know better.

The United States has met our greatest enemy that leads the world in global terrorism. And it is us.

To prove my criticism of violent American foreign policy is bipartisan, I’ll point out that the Obama Administration’s indiscriminate drone strikes are terrorist crimes against humanity. While the Obama administration rightly criticizes al-Qaeda’s practice of attacking enemies during a funeral as morally heinous acts of terrorist monsters, nothing stops Obama from using drones to kill our “enemies” as they attend funerals.

I put “enemies” in quotes because they ended being regular civilians, many even children. You know, “casualties of war.” Aka, “Oops!”

And Iran is the most dangerous supporter of state terrorism in the world?

No, we are. And Republicans are trying to gain our vote by criticizing Obama’s terrorist policies and promising that they will be far better terrorists. Which, our politicians claim, will keep us safe.

A Relationship of Fear and Desire for Peace

The fact is that Iran wants to be just like the U.S. We fear Iran and Iran fears us. A relationship of fear is a recipe for disaster. But the U.S. and Iran want the same thing. Iran has a fearful political regime that just wants peace. Iran feels threatened, and it has learned from the U.S. how to respond to threats – by mimicking those violent threats with violent threats of its own.

We are enemy twins, who, even in negotiations, won’t take violence off the table.

The way that the U.S. can free ourselves from this relationship of violence is through honest self-criticism. Instead of accusing Iran of being a great threat to global security, we would do well to have the courage to admit our own terrorist acts of foreign policy.

American Honesty and Genuine Peace

It is the height of American self-deception to claim that we are completely innocent and Iran is completely guilty. Just look at our modern history with Iran. In 1953, the U.S. orchestrated a coup to topple the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh. Why? So that the U.S. would have “a major ownership in the strategic and highly lucrative trade of Iranian oil … with the additional bonus of a pliable client state in the heart of the Middle East.”

In 1985, the U.S. secretly shipped weapons to Iran and sent profits to Nicaraguan rebels. In 1988, the U.S. warship Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airplane. The U.S. says it mistook the Airbus A300 for an Iranian fighter jet.

Our greatest enemy is not Iran. It’s not Russia. Nor is it China. Our greatest enemy is ourselves. We have modeled for the world how to gain temporary peace through violence, which is a pattern that will only ensure a future of apocalyptic destruction.

The only alternative is to model a different method to achieve peace. American politicians must have the courage to stop deceiving the American people about our perceived innocence. Rather, we need our politicians to be honest about American involvement in terrorism and lead us in repenting of our violence. Modeling that honesty and repentance to other nations is the only possible way that the U.S. can help foster genuine peace in the world.

Photo Copyright: kagenmi / 123RF Stock Photo

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"See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." Image from pixabay.com

“Piss Christ” And Drawing Muhammad: On Not Being Offended

I recoiled a little just typing the title to this article.

The title of the infamous photograph by Andres Serrano, “Piss Christ,” makes me bristle as much as the content of a crucifix submerged in blood and urine. I can’t get used to the language on a gut level, even as I have come to appreciate it on an intellectual and even spiritual level. My visceral repulsion to this juxtaposition of the filthy and the sacred is probably similar to the feeling Muslims get when they see the beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) degraded in crass and crude caricatures. It can feel like a blow to the stomach, with anger and disgust rising up in response, to see or hear that which we hold most sacred defiled.

Muslim Americans have had to deal with an exceptional amount of bigotry lately, even for an oft-misunderstood minority in a post-9/11 nation. In the past month, two large-scale events have been organized specifically to demean and provoke them. First came the “Draw Muhammad” contest hosted in early May by Pamela Gellar in Garland, TX. When this event ended in the shooting death by police of two vengeance-seeking gunmen, it prompted Marine veteran Jon Ritzheimer to organize a similar rally held on the last Friday in May in Phoenix, AZ. The rally began with another “Draw Muhammad” contest at a nearby Denny’s before protestors (mainly described as “armed bikers”) gathered outside a mosque at the time of the Friday prayer. While both rallies were promoted by their organizers as defense of the freedom of speech, they also deliberately vilified Islam, relishing in their defiance of the prohibition against depicting the Prophet and seeking to portray Muslims as violent, backward savages. The irony of such events, aggressively wielding hatred in order to provoke violence so as to call the dreaded “other” violent, cannot be lost on students of mimetic theory.

Imagine arriving at your place of worship, preparing to surrender your troubles to the all-compassionate, all-merciful God, only to be surrounded by a jeering, gun-brandishing mob claiming that you are violent. It is not only insulting, it is threatening. And while it is true that the Christian faith has also been ridiculed, the Christian community has not been targeted and labeled an enemy by popular culture, nor treated as such by authorities, in the same way Muslims have been in this nation that prides itself on diversity and “freedom of speech.”

Thus even the depiction of Jesus on the cross submerged in urine does not evoke the same range of negative emotions in believers as do the vulgar drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, for while the former can certainly offend, the latter not only offend, but also intimidate. They tell an already persecuted minority that they are unwelcome in a way that “Piss Christ” cannot, because “Piss Christ” does not reflect a larger animus against Christianity pervasive throughout our culture the way the cartoons do of Islam.

Nevertheless, I have seen the comparison made between “Piss Christ” and the drawings of the Prophet made several times recently, and they are worth comparing for more reasons than first meet the eye. In both cases, subversive works of art provoke anger and disgust. Yet believers have an opportunity in both cases to transcend their disgust and anger and explore and reveal the truth of their faiths – the God who needs no defense and responds to provocation with mercy, compassion, and love.

In an interview for the Huffington Post, artist Andres Serrano revealed that his infamous photograph was designed to evoke feelings of disgust, but not out of hostility to the Christian faith. Serrano says:

The crucifix is a symbol that has lost its true meaning; the horror of what occurred. It represents the crucifixion of a man who was tortured, humiliated and left to die on a cross for several hours. In that time, Christ not only bled to dead, he probably saw all his bodily functions and fluids come out of him. So if “Piss Christ” upsets people, maybe this is so because it is bringing the symbol closer to its original meaning.

A Christian himself, Serrano reminds us that though it has been sanitized and neutralized, disgust and horror are appropriate responses to the cross. They are appropriate responses to the condemnation Jesus received from those who thought they were doing the will of God. They are appropriate responses the human violence that continues to crucify Christ when wielded against anyone else.

Abilene Christian University psychology professor Richard Beck extends the imagery from the crucifixion to the incarnation in a powerful advent meditation. First exploring the psychology behind disgust, Beck explains the attribution of negativity dominance – the understanding that the filthy contaminates the pure. He then meditates on “Piss Christ” as a metaphor for the Incarnation, the descent of God into the shame and wretchedness of our own lives.

[I]n the contact between urine and Jesus in Piss Christ we instinctively judge the negative to be stronger than the positive. Thus the shock. Thus the blasphemy.

But the real blasphemy just might be this: That we think urine is stronger than Christ. That we instinctively–and blasphemously–believe that the defilement of our lives is the strongest force in the universe. Stronger even than God.

It never occurs to us that Christ is stronger than the “piss” of our lives.

… This is the scandal of the Incarnation. This is the scandal of Christmas. That God descended into the piss, shit and darkness of your life. And the piss, shit and darkness did not overcome it.

While Serrano’s art is designed to evoke the horror of the crucifixion, Dr. Beck’s meditation reminds us of the hope of the Incarnation and the resurrection. I want to reflect first on the horror. While there is violence in “Piss Christ,” most people see it as violence by the artist directed toward the faithful. It rarely occurs to believers to use the art to meditate on the actual event of the cross, in which humiliation, brutality and murder are exposed for all to see. We project our disgust outward, onto the artist, rather inward, onto our own violence that “Piss Christ” truly depicts. Our offense at others we whom perceive to be violent or blasphemous blinds us to our own violence. Disgust and horror projected at Serrano perpetuate the judgment that crucified Christ. Disgust and horror at our own violence that actually crucified Christ facilitate repentance.

The protestors in Garland and Phoenix could not recognize their own violence because they could only see the violence of a few extremists who have committed acts of terror in a misguided attempt to defend Islam. The Garland event was (in part) a response to the shootings at Charlie Hebdo. The Phoenix event was partly a response to the attempted attack on the Garland event. Ridicule and dehumanization, reinforced by open-carry weapons at the Phoenix event, were seen by those who carried them out as defensive tactics. Muslims, harassed and dehumanized and increasingly vulnerable to physical violence as events like these further polarize, are seen as the enemy. As Rene Girard has taught, people never see themselves as the cause of violence. Even the most aggressive fail to recognize themselves as the aggressors while looking to the aggression of someone else.

But there is hope! Violence does not have the last word!

Dr. Beck’s reflection on the Incarnation reveals a new dimension to “Piss Christ,” showing how God comes even in the filth and shame of our violence. Our violence cannot overcome the love of God, who absorbs it, forgives it, and redeems us from it.

That same love and redemptive forgiveness was on display in Phoenix. Immersed in the muck of hatred and vitriol, many people either lash out in vengeance or internalize the anger. Violence could have contaminated the peaceful atmosphere of the mosque, spreading the contagion of hate and fear and division.

Instead, compassion prevailed.

Instead of acting on offense, Muslims of the Phoenix mosque followed the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who endured ridicule with patience and gentility. No stranger to being immersed in filth himself, the Prophet Muhammad, according to tradition, once endured the hatred of one particular woman (among many) who would empty her garbage out the window when he passed by. When one day he passed her window unscathed, he knocked on the door to her home to make sure that she was okay! Moved by this same spirit, the Muslim community in Phoenix invited the protestors into the mosque, offering hospitality, space for dialogue, and, for those moved to listen, the opportunity for a healing of the heart.

In particular, the eyes of Jason Leger and his uncle, Paul Griffith, were opened by their experience. Walking into the mosque wearing profanity-laced anti-Islam t-shirts, they left with a newfound empathy for their Muslim brothers and sisters. Though they insist on the right to even offensive free speech, they have made the choice not to express such hatred. Leger says:

When I took a second to actually sit down and listen to them, and actually enter their mosque, and go in and watch some of their prayers, it is a beautiful thing, and they answered some of the questions that I had.

I feel that me and a few people like my uncle Paul, and the Muslim people, taking the time to talk to each other,  feel that we changed the thoughts of some people, and they changed the thoughts of me. Paul specifically said he would not wear that shirt again.

Love can break down the walls of fear and hatred. Love is stronger than anger and fear, stronger than violence and filth. I stand with my Muslim sisters and brothers in this love in spirit, and should the need arise, I hope to stand with them in body as well.

It is natural to be offended when we see that which we hold sacred mocked and abused and violated. But God’s own children – those whom God holds sacred — are abused and violated and humiliated every day in a cycle of violence perpetuated by those who lash out in anger… to defend God! The filth that surrounds “Piss Christ” is that of our own making. The violence that is projected onto Muslims resides in the hearts of those who project it (although some Muslims do lash out in violence, believing themselves to be defending God and morality, and thus the pattern continues). When we choose to be offended, we keep the cycle of violence turning, churning the muck of hatred and fear that keeps blood flowing.

But the negative need not dominate the positive.

We can follow in the footsteps of those nearest to the heart of God. In the Christian tradition, God came in flesh among the filth of our lives and endured rejection, humiliation, and torture to redeem us. In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad endured rejection, humiliation, and expulsion to bring words of compassion and a model of redemption.

Christ need not be protected from the piss. He has been there, and remains there until the least among us are treated with dignity and respect. Muhammad need not be violently defended when caricatures are drawn. Instead, he is honored when such ridicule is met with the same gentle forgiveness he himself modeled, forgiveness that subtly but certainly corrects the offense by modeling respect.

Some things in life are worthy of our offense: brutality, hatred, cruelty. These are the blasphemies that offend God. But harsh judgment, condemnation and violence only perpetuate these offenses. Instead, we are called to respond in the same way that God responds to our offenses, with active mercy and love.

 

 

 

 

Zarghuna with one of her students.

Fear And Learning In Kabul

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world… Shall we say the odds are too great? … the struggle is too hard? … and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message — of longing, of hope, of solidarity… The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, “Beyond Vietnam”

Kabul—I’ve spent a wonderfully calm morning here in Kabul, listening to bird songs and to the call and response between mothers and their children in neighboring homes as families awaken and prepare their children for school. Maya Evans and I arrived here yesterday, and  are just settling into the community quarters of our young hosts, The Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs). Last night, they told us about the jarring and frightening events that marked the past few months of their lives in Kabul.

They described how they felt when bomb explosions, nearby, awakened them on several mornings. Some said they’d felt almost shell-shocked themselves discovering one recent day that thieves had ransacked their home. They shared their intense feelings of alarm at a notorious warlord’s statement condemning a human rights demonstration in which several community members had participated. And their horror when a few weeks later, in Kabul, a young woman, an Islamic scholar named  Farkhunda, was falsely accused in a street argument of desecrating the Koran, after which, to the roared approval of a frenzied mob of perhaps two thousand men, members of the crowd, with apparent police collusion, beat her to death. Our young friends quietly sort through their emotions in the face of inescapable and often overwhelming violence.

I thought about how to incorporate their stories into a course I’ve been preparing for an international online school that intends to help raise consciousness among people, across borders and share the results. I hope the school will help develop movements  dedicated to simple living, radical sharing, service and, for many, nonviolent direct action on behalf of ending wars and injustices.

Essentially, when Voices members go to Kabul, our “work” is to listen to and learn from our hosts and take back their stories of war to the relatively peaceful lands whose actions had brought that war down upon them. Before we’d even departed, the news from Afghanistan was already quite grim. Several dozen people dead in fighting between armed groups. A Kabul hotel attack on international businessmen the week before. We earnestly wrote our friends with a  last minute offer to stay away, in hopes that we wouldn’t make them targets of the violence. “Please come,” our friends wrote us. So we’re here.

The western presence in Afghanistan has already caused incalculable destruction, suffering and loss. A recently released Physicians for Social Responsibility report calculated that since 2001 in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. wars have killed at least 1.3 million and quite possibly more than 2 million civilians.

The report chides U.S. political elites for attributing on-going violence in Afghanistan and Iraq to various types of internecine conflicts “as if the resurgence and brutality of such conflicts is unrelated to the destabilization caused by decades of military intervention.”

Our young friends have survived the ravages of war, and each of them struggles with trauma, as their parents and grandparents have before them. When we have gone with them to visit refugee camps outside of Kabul, several have told of their own experiences as children, running away when their villages were attacked or occupied. We learn from them about the sorrows their mothers endured when there wasn’t enough food to feed the family or fuel to carry them through heartless winters: when they themselves nearly died from hypothermia. Several of our young friends experience terrifying flashbacks when they hear accounts in the news of Afghans killed by missiles or gunfire within the horrified sight of their own family members and loved ones. They tremble and sometimes cry, recalling similar experiences from their own lives.

The story of Afghanistan in Western accounts is that Afghanistan cannot deal with its traumas, however much we try, with our bullets, bases and token schools and clinics, to help. Yet these young people steadfastly respond to their own traumas not by seeking revenge but by finding ways to help people in Kabul whose circumstances are worse than theirs, particularly 750,000 Afghans living, with their children, in squalid refugee camps.

The APVs are running an alternative school for street kids in Kabul.  Little  children who are the main breadwinners for their families find no time to learn basic math or “the alphabet” when spending  more than eight hours daily working in the streets of Kabul. Some are vendors, some polish shoes, and some carry scales along roadways so that people can weigh themselves. In an economy collapsing under the weight of war and corruption, their hard earned income barely buys enough food for their families.

Children of the poorest families in Kabul will have better chances in life if they become literate. Never mind rising school enrollment figures often cited by the U.S. military as the benefits of occupation. The March 2015 CIA World Fact Book reports that  17.6 % of females over age 14 are literate; overall, in the teen and adult population only 31.7% can read or write.

After getting to know about 20 families whose children work in the streets, the APVs devised a plan through which each family receives a monthly sack of rice and  large container of oil to offset the family’s financial loss for sending their children to informal classes at the APV center and preparing to enroll them in school. Through continued outreach among Afghanistan’s troubled ethnicities, APV members now include 80 children in the school and hope to serve 100 children soon.

Every Friday, the children pour into the center’s courtyard and immediately line up to wash their feet and hands and brush their teeth at a communal faucet. Then they scramble up the stairs to their brightly decorated classroom and readily settle down when their teachers start the lessons. Three extraordinary young teachers, Zarghuna, Hadisa, and Farzana, feel encouraged now because many of the thirty-one street kids who were in the school last year learned to read and write fluently within nine months. Their experimentation with different teaching methods, including individualized learning, is paying off—unlike  government school systems where many seventh graders are unable to read.

While leading a demonstration of street children, Zekerullah, who was once a street kid himself, was asked if he felt any fears. Zekerullah said that he feared that the children would be harmed if a bomb exploded. But his greater fear was that impoverishment would afflict them throughout their lives.

That message of courage and compassion will not — and cannot– always prevail.  But if we take note of it, and even more, if, learning from its example, we take action to exemplify it ourselves, then it offers us a path out of childish fear, out of panicked collusion in war, and out, perhaps, of war’s mad grip. We ourselves arrive  in a notably better world when we determine to build it for others. Our own education, our own victory over fear, and our own arrival as equals in an adult world, can begin or begin again – now.

So let us begin.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on Telesur English

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org). 

Image from 123rf.com

The Role of Martial Arts In Raising A Peacemaker

“Kee-yah!” she yells, propelling her arm upward with strength and precision. The soft blue “noodle” (one of those foam pool toys) strikes her arm but fails to reach her head, thanks to her successful block. She is happy and confident, and my heart swells with pride.

My daughter has the friendliest disposition I think I have ever seen in another human being. She is soft-hearted like her mother and charming like her daddy, and somehow she missed either of our genes for introversion. With open arms she greets the world, and it’s beautiful. It is also frightening to send her out, so wide-eyed and innocent and vulnerable, and know that others could easily take advantage of her. My husband and I do all we can to protect her and teach her how to protect herself, and within the last month, that has included enrolling her in martial arts. Thus far, the class has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, for her and her parents. But as a pacifist, I recognize an irony to the situation. I want to teach my children the art of peacemaking, and yet here I am, happily enrolling my firstborn in martial arts?

Do martial arts have a place in raising a peaceful child? I believe they can, but only if the family approaches it intentionally. As I muse on this issue, I have to take a hard look at multiple aspects of my parenting, as well as how my husband and I parent together, and ask some challenging questions.

Her Benefit, Our Benefit

Since enrolling her in martial arts, my husband and I have seen improvement in our daughter’s confidence, focus, discipline, and resilience, and that has pleased both of us immensely. The particular facility we attend puts as much stress on character development as it does on physical training, and I especially appreciate the “village” approach to raising children embedded in their philosophy.

An integral part of the program is weekly character development charts listing jobs for children to perform at home and school. Children are acknowledged for consistently completing their work, but not reprimanded when they fall short. I know this is good for the children, but it is a tremendous benefit to parents as well, providing support and reinforcement for the character traits we strive to teach. In our own house, we have tried chore calendars and charts, but they have inevitably gone unfilled after a short period of time. I know that the martial arts charts, which come partially filled with lists of activities every child should be doing (putting items away, clearing one’s place at the table, taking pride in lessons, treating others with respect) help me develop as a parent by giving me a way to consistently monitor and support my daughter in these essential life skills.

Beyond duties, the weekly job charts and the gently-expressed high standards of the instructors are fostering a sense of responsibility and helping to develop a positive attitude not only for my daughter, but for myself as well. For her, I see positive character development and increasing maturity in her decisions. As conscientious habits become ingrained within her, she is increasingly able to take care of herself without being told. And as her focus improves, she is also more in tune to the needs of others, jumping to help anyone she sees in need. My stress has naturally waned in the wake of her waxing maturity; my frustration level is generally lower and I am somewhat more relaxed. But just as I know that my daughter has made a conscious effort to take on more responsibility, I must make a conscious effort to keep my mind calm and my tone even. My efforts to discipline consistently are an exercise for me in focus, patience, and compassion. And as these traits within me grow stronger, my relationships improve, not only with my daughter, but with everyone I know. As I immerse my daughter into a more disciplined environment that her martial arts class is helping to foster, I am internalizing that gentle discipline in the best of ways, building a mental strength that helps me take control of my ever-increasing responsibilities. Martial arts has helped reinforce the values of respect for self and others that my husband and I have always strived to teach, and even as I strive to be a model for our daughter, her enthusiasm for taking on adult responsibilities and her positive attitude have served as a model for me.

Risks

Yet, when it comes down to it, martial arts teach her how to fight, and I cannot completely reconcile this fact with pacifism. When it comes to the physical, martial aspect of martial arts, I am aware of the risk that she may learn that violence can solve problems. I must be intentional about countering that message, about steering her martial arts education in a direction that will allow her to use the confidence, focus, and perseverance without becoming aggressive or adopting a mentality of being “against an enemy.” I also want to nurture a sense of respect within her without helping to foster an unquestioning acceptance of authority. It is a matter of balance, a balance I must be careful to model and maintain.

The truth is, I do want my daughters to be able to protect themselves. I am happy to give them the opportunity to learn how to block attacks and escape from holds. And although I can’t imagine a situation in which they would need to do more than block and escape, I would want them to be able to do whatever is necessary to stop an aggressor humanely to alleviate danger for themselves and others. I don’t want to limit their toolboxes. But I also do not want to blind them to the other tools in the box.

I tell myself that, should my daughter experience violence, unless she has confidence in herself to escape or stop it, she will internalize and perpetuate it – against herself and possibly against others. That is the nature of violence, to trigger a self-perpetuating cycle. The terrifying truth is that girls are particularly (but by no means exclusively) vulnerable to violence within relationships, which can lead to violent patterns, hurting others, including children later born to them. I tell myself that by enrolling our daughter in martial arts, my husband and I are helping her develop confidence in her own body, mental focus, and the self-esteem necessary to walk away from unhealthy relationships, as well as the strength to escape from physical violence should the need ever arise. And this is true. At the same time, we must be careful that as we prepare our daughters to deal with potential violence, we do not teach them to expect violence and develop an attitude of self-protection against a world onto which they project a motive of hostility.

I am hoping that the self-confidence that my daughter learns from martial arts will give her the strength and courage to use her imagination to diffuse hostility with tools of compassion, humor, logic, or surprise. My hope is that a knowledge of her physical strength will reinforce the mental strength I know she has and keep her from reacting in fear that diminishes self-control. But I am also aware that, should she meet aggression with counter-aggression, even as I want her to be able to use physical force as a last resort if she is ever in real trouble, violence has the potential to escalate. I do not want her to be hurt, and I do not want her to hurt others. Defensive violence feeds into a cycle of violence in which offense and defense cannot be distinguished. I have studied mimetic theory long enough to know this. I know there is a risk to providing her with tools I never want her to have to use, in that simply having them at her disposal could hinder her creativity in finding nonviolent ways to deal with hostility.

Solutions

So how do my husband and I minimize the risks of providing our daughters with tools that could be used for violence, and more importantly, how do we teach them to value nonviolence and peacemaking while immersing them in an environment that may in some ways contradict such a message? In searching my heart and mind, I have come up with a few ideas.

  1. The most important thing we can do to raise peacemakers is show our daughters that they are loved and provide them with a healthy environment. Martial arts help us foster this environment by reinforcing values of respect and providing support as we discipline. My growing confidence in my parenting skills is reflected in a deepening ability to show the compassion I have always felt but have sometimes fallen short of expressing. As my daughter matures, takes on responsibility and develops self-control, I am also maturing, learning the limits of my patience and controlling my actions and reactions so that I can allow those limits to be gently stretched but never broken. I am yelling less, listening more, and managing time better. Comfortable with consistently enforcing limits, I can relax and allow my daughters freedom within boundaries. I can let them set the pace, (as my colleague Suzanne advocates) allow them to be loud or silly or giggly and play along with them, knowing that I can reign them in when necessary. Giving our daughters this kind of security, freedom, and love will reinforce their sense of self-worth and model for them the peaceful and peace-building values that we want them to embody as they make their ways in the world.
  1. We can teach them that there is no such thing as a “bad guy.” One of the most important things we can do to ensure our daughters never develop an overreliance on violence is reinforce, time and again, there are no bad people, only bad actions. When my firstborn was younger, she once claimed to be a superhero with the power to “make bad guys die!” I quickly told her that it would be better to make bad guys nice instead, and ever since, she has used “the power of love” to turn imaginary villains into imaginary friends. As she grows and begins to see the world in deepening shades of gray rather than black and white, I want continually to help her to understand that all people are capable of extraordinary good and terrible harm. Even as she guards herself from the harm of which people are capable, she must remember that even someone who attacks is a person first, also capable of good. Further, I want her to recognize her own mistakes and bad choices, secure in the knowledge that she is loved and that she is much more than her mistakes. Knowing this, she can have sympathy for someone who might lash out in violence even as she does what may be necessary to protect herself. I want to teach her that violence is a destructive way of dealing with a problem, but people who express problems through violence need love and help.
  1. Finally, I want us to teach creative problem-solving skills so that our daughters recognize the tools in their toolboxes beyond fight or flight. Here I am open to any suggestions, resources or ideas readers may have. I know there are stories of conflict resolutions that have come about through friendliness, humor, logic, or the element of surprise. I would like to find these stories at age-appropriate levels and read them to my daughters. Beyond reading about nonviolent conflict resolution, I also want to model it to my daughters. It is easy enough to help them think up creative solutions to made-up problems as I play with them. But I also want to model respectful arguing to show that caring for someone is more important than proving one’s self right. That takes the kind of self-control that is ever-developing, in adults as well as children! I also know that a potentially hostile situation can be instantly diffused if provocation is met with understanding and empathy rather than offense. I am hoping that the focus and self-control my daughter is learning can be put to use to deflect insults not with physical force, but with a self-esteem and confidence that render such force unnecessary. Ultimately, I want our children never to feel the need to fight by giving them the ability to diffuse a conflict before it escalates. Should they ever be in need of physical self-defense, I am hoping they will limit the force they use to just what it takes to get away safely.

Right now, martial arts are helping me to become a more peaceful parent. I believe they can also play a role in helping my daughter to become a more peaceful child and grow into a peacemaking adult, but only if my husband and I commit to balancing her defensive skills with the environment, values, and tools that nurture her in peacemaking. We are making that commitment, but I am asking for your help, gentle readers. If you have ideas for peaceful parenting, please comment! It takes a village, afterall!

 

 

Copyright:  / 123RF Stock Photo

A Natural Peace: Evidence for the Abnormality of Violence

Is war an inevitable part of human existence? Is violence woven into the strands of our DNA? Or is it possible that human nature is loving, compassionate, and altruistic? Much ink has been spilled on the question and you can read social science and psychology studies that support the view that civilization is only a thin veneer over a violent natures or that altruism has an evolutionary advantage and is coded into our DNA. Unfortunately, nothing definitive on the question yet, not from the experimental sciences anyway. But I don’t think a definitive answer is all that elusive: If you want to know if humans are violent by nature, look at the face of a child who has been impacted by violence.

I know that mimetic theory (MT), my life’s work, has taken a beating on the subject of human violence. It has been accused of forging an indissoluble link between humanity and violence, though nothing could be further from the truth. Mimetic theory explains how violence became embedded in human culture, indeed how human culture as it is currently constructed relies on a foundation of violence. But MT also clearly illuminates the contingency of our current predicament. In other words, though violence is the beating heart of human culture today, it doesn’t have to be.

The faces of children show us just how foreign to human nature violence actually is. Children shrink from violence. They withdraw inside of themselves and the face they turn outward to the world is one stripped of their personalities. They lose their affect, are unable to smile or respond to overtures from others. I suppose if you think that joyless, lifeless, blank stares are “normal”, then violence can be thought of as essential to normal human functioning. But if you think that children like this are abnormal, in other words, if you think that violence has prevented them from developing normally, then it’s fair to conclude that violence is anathema to human life and therefore cannot be part of our DNA. Violent behavior must be contingent, just one possibility among others in the vast repertoire of human behaviors. One we can opt for or opt out of as we choose. A choice that a careful study of mimetic theory forces us to face.

In her observational studies of young children, Dr. Maria Montessori concluded that normal childhood development was surprisingly peaceful. What she called “normalized” children – children freed from the oppression of adult ideas of what children should be and do – were calm, capable of intense and prolonged periods of concentration, filled with wonder and joy, and overflowed with creativity. They were not violent, angry, anxious or mean. On the contrary, Dr. Montessori explained that “We might say that if love appears, we are within the range of the normal, and if it does not, within the range of the abnormal.”

In fact, I can allow her to interpret the images of children afflicted by violence for us. She called for a “revolution [in childhood education], one in which everything we know today will be transformed. I think of this as the final revolution,” she explained. “Not a revolution of violence, still less of bloodshed, but one from which violence is wholly excluded – for the little child’s psychic productivity is stricken to death by the barest shadow of violence.” Faces stricken to death in the presence of violence are not evidence of the normal human condition.

If war is inevitable, as some believe, then human development will forever be abnormal. We will never truly flourish and discover our way into new cultural forms that do not rely on constant infusions of violence to sustain them. We have been too long slogging through what Dr. Montessori called the “adult period” of human evolution, one that is “characterized by constant outbreak of war.” With her revolution in education, she hoped to usher in “the age of the child… the period in which we will begin to build peace.” If adults dedicate themselves to supporting the normal development of children we may be taking the first step to “organizing humanity for peace”. Social peace and harmony have too long relied on winner takes all wars of domination and defeat. True peace must be grounded in its only true foundation: the natural peace of a normalized humanity.