Friday, March 6, 2015

World War Three

Today' s blog post is from my heart, not my head. This is written on a topic about which I have very little academic understanding, but I do have strong feelings and opinions. Typically, not the best combination. I welcome feedback, debate, and education. But not with shouting, posturing and belittling comments.
You need war to achieve peace.” This gem dropped by the pool manager at my work, Carla. It was during a staff meeting. I work at a non-profit community center – child care, fitness, swimming and enrichment programs. Looking around the table, several heads swinging a slow, shocked “no” just like mine. Part of our mission-statement says we are to promote peace, but it doesn't make any suggestions on how we should do that. Apparently we need some guidance. We have differing ideas.

I'm not close with my co-workers. But we've been working together for years, so I think I know them pretty well. I certainly know when they'll excel, and when they'll fail at company-directed initiatives. Because we don't share many personal interests, I rarely spend my off-work time with them. So while I know their work-skills, what I don't know is their personal opinions on political topics. I live in a rural community in Pennsylvania, the patriot-zone. An area where being a war-veteran is cooler than being a brain-surgeon. It surprised me that so many of them would take offense to Carla's statement. It surprised me much more than hearing her make the statement.

This was years ago. Carla, a mother of two young children, is so Christian that once during an all-staff briefing, she said our organization's primary purpose was to glorify God. She's a devout follower of the “prince of peace.” But she has bought into the myth that war is the proper road to peace. Even though I can’t find a Bible verse where Jesus says that. “No, you need war to achieve submission, that isn't the same as peace.” My response to Carla. And then the conversation was over. But tension lingered for the rest of the meeting, and maybe still today.

The God and Country set, prevalent in my area, enthusiastically supports military action against the shifting shape of “haters of America.” To my neighbors, it is a holy war. Christianity against Islam. Citing passages from the Koran to prove Muslims simply want to kill us. And of course many of them do. A growing number, it seems. But it also seems like it is the United States' intention to kill all of them first.

After the September 11 attacks, many Americans suggested that it was time to reevaluate our national positions on the Middle East, on Israel. These questioners were immediately branded unpatriotic. Shouted down as unsympathetic to those who were killed. 9/11 was a time for unity, for a response. The air-liner attacks killed three thousand Americans, the vast majority, civilians. This was reprehensible, it was murder. Likewise, our response - vast bombing raids. Indiscriminate and lethal. An eye for an eye. In the two years that followed, the United States led military coalition killed as many Afghan civilians as were killed by the 9/11 terrorists. But we were just getting started.

We've been at war for fourteen years. We have not achieved peace. We haven't even achieved submission. All we've managed to do is seriously piss-off a substantial percentage of the world's Muslim population. And this isn't just by our actions. The Islam world is rallied by our rhetoric as well. Our vow to light up the sky with a “shock and awe” campaign against Iraq. As if the war was nothing more than a fireworks display put on for the American public. And our threat to “bomb Pakistan back to the stone-age” if they didn't get with our program against Al-Qaeda.

I used to think World War Three would start over scarce resources – flooding coastlines, the lack of potable water and food in our post-climate-change world. Now, I believe WWIII has already started. It might seem like we're battling over religion, but the real issue is respect. The Christian west, especially America, has attempted to rule the world for decades. Dictating who's in and who's out with alliances and policies. Policies that bow to the desires of lobbyists. In the middle-east, the Arab world, this means Israel and Saudi Arabia. The rest of this region has been marginalized – or declared evil. It is human nature to feel like an outsider when you are different from those in power. And in the west, power rests fully with the Christians.

Americans are all too ready to brand the violence against us as Islamic Extremism. That's a short-sighted convenience. Using religion to motivate an army is hardly a new strategy. It has been the default for millennia. From the crusaders until modern times. I live near a civil war battlefield. The park is littered with monuments that contain Christian imagery. Avenging angles and crosses are everywhere. The prevailing rally-cry during that war? “For God!” It works - an army with divine sanction has an edge in battle. What we are seeing now is only different in that Islam is the motivator. When Al-Qaeda, ISIS, et al, invoke Islam, we respond with our own religious dogma. And the appearance of a war of religious ideals continues.

It clearly isn't helping. The recruiting pool for our adversary is massive. Almost a quarter of the world practices Islam. And many western Muslims find our rhetoric to be racist and anti-Muslim. Not an attack on the violent doctrine and actions of these groups, but an attack on their heritage, their religion. For some, it spurs a response. Suburban kids from the United States, Canada, France, roots strongly set in western culture, are walking away from their lives to join to fight against a bully.

This trend will increase. As it gains traction, we will be fighting civil wars all around the globe. A war with no defined boundaries, and no way to label the enemy except by their religion. And this will only intensify the rhetoric and the response – on both sides. The only way out of this situation is maturity and empathy. Accept each other's differences.

As long as Americans like Carla remain in the majority, with their belief that the only path to peace is through killing our enemies, peace will elude us. You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist. I didn't make this up, Indira Gandhi did, and it is necessary to embrace. In the sixties, sober adults mocked the live and let live ethos of the hippy-youth. Fifty years later, it clearly has merit.

So while that inevitable climate-change war, World War IV now, still simmers. We have our current war to end. Not with bullets and bombs, but with understanding and respect. And not from only Christians or Muslims, but from everyone. Perhaps the place for me to start, the place to gain some understanding, is with Carla.

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