20 July 2006

The rhetoric of righteousness vs the priority of humane effectiveness

Igor, in Israel, asks, "And how do you consider Israel should conduct itself in a situation of border violations, murders of border guards, and the taking of hostages? And, in a similar situation, how would Russia conduct itself?"

In another exchange on the same site, Abdula says, "Even in response to such terrible things as Kashirka, Nord-Ost, or Beslan, today's Russia would not begin a total bombardment of Chechnya or Grozny, but would make a focused response, at the same time not halting assistance to innocent civilians. Isn't that right?" Misha responds: "No, that's not right. After the terrorist attacks in Moscow and Buinovsk in 1999, Chechnya was taken over and Grozny was wiped from the face of the earth. There were many more victims. Have you forgotten?"

Thus do people talk right past each other, with groupthink and grievances, with righteous rhetorical questions and one-upsmanship, often citing correct facts in the service of scoring pointless victories.

Igor's rhetorical question, when taken seriously, does in fact have answers. What should a country do when its citizens have been endangered by terrorists from the other side of a border? What does leadership do when faced with a chronic danger that includes murderous sporadic flare-ups? And, furthermore, when it is under constant political attack by bigoted extremists in its own constituency? What combination of diplomacy, policework, political organizing, spiritual leadership, and social creativity of all kinds could be brought to bear, with adequate resources and with sober persistence, to pre-empt the moral bankruptcy of solutions involving the "regrettable necessity" of innocents' dying?

The world has become so accustomed to Israeli politicians' extravagant use of "security" to justify any and all responses to terror, and to its opponents' blanket condemnations of those responses, that we don't seem to witness any thoughtful discussions of what its leaders should do. How should Igor's question be soberly answered? What would Abdula's desired "focused response" actually look like? Unfortunately, when a semblance of peace prevails, there's no urgency to discuss these questions widely; and when war breaks out, all calm analysis seems to evaporate in favor of polarizing rhetoric on behalf of that group whose victim status we most identify with.

What would happen if a faith-based constituency emerged, with leaders to match, whose love of humanity exceeded their short-term need to pander to the nearest authority figures or base their identity on shared victimhood? Who did not rank other human beings' worth based on which side of a border they called home? Who were determined in fact to define that "focused response" to crime and terrorism, because doing so would provide the best possible chance for children on both sides of the border to thrive?

Tiny evidences of such movements exist, of course. Christian Peacemaker Teams is a partial answer. Father Elias Chacour, Melkite archbishop of Galilee and educational pioneer, provides another part of the picture. Groups such as Taizé and Sant'Egidio also provide partial models. No doubt there are many others, although they are often reduced in their effectiveness by various forms of elitism and fastidiousness. What I would love to see is a serious effort to form an ecumenical council of genuinely weighty leaders, ready to put their credibility on the line, with a supporting staff with research and action capacities and the following features:
  • liaison with many grassroots groups of all social classes, nationalities, professions and specialties, and political persuasions
  • economists, linguists, anthropologists, ethicists, artists, politicians, political scientists, and theologians in frequent conversation, with access points for "ordinary" people to testify and add to the dialogue
  • a singularity of mission and focus that is so clear that it would trump all claims of national or class or cultural superiority, hierarchies of grievances, confessional peculiarities, and other diversions.
What would such a mission be?

In considering this question, I thought about Technoserve founder Ed Bullard's daily challenge to himself and each of his coworkers: "What have you done today to relieve someone's poverty?" Maybe we could ask, "What have you done today to secure an innocent child's future, in the face of objective danger?"

How is this for a mission? "Believing that God makes no distinctions among us based on national or ethnic history but loves each of us as communities, families, and individuals, we will combine our efforts, our resources, our expertise, and our social networks for the sole purpose of ending intergroup violence. We agree to work together for this purpose despite any differences that we might have in theology or ideology, and each of us is willing to bow out of this joint effort if those differences appear to hamper our participation. Our orientation is both pragmatic and long-term: we seek to identify the breakdown of human relationships that lead to violence at specific points of danger; to expose the agendas and trace the resources of all those who seek to exploit the conflict; to recommend countermeasures and mobilize world resources and world opinion for the sake of those countermeasures; and to attempt persistently to remain in communication with those engaged in violence."

I have always thought that, properly coordinated, the Christian church should have within it one of the world's greatest intelligence services and think tanks, ready to harness in the service of nonviolence. But to realize that potential, we need to put together the specific coalition of talents and singleminded, stubborn activists that can organize and direct such an effort. Simply being righteous just isn't enough.

In all the swirling anxiety about terrorism, here's a sane voice, that of Michael T. Klare, thanks to tomdispatch.com. (I define sanity, more or less, as agreeing with me, and I've been trying to say this in my own tiny circles for years.) Here's my favorite quotation:
...[S]uccess in the global struggle against terrorist movements can only be achieved by a multilateral effort entailing the vigorous application of police-type investigative methods and a moral campaign designed to invalidate the legitimacy of indiscriminate violence against innocent people. The unilateralist, shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach of the Bush administration has demonstrably undermined such efforts. The upshot is bound to be but more terrorism and a greater risk to American lives. Only by cooperating with other countries on an equitable basis can we diminish this risk.

A retreat from empire would also force us to use oil more sparingly and this, in turn, would enable us to address another critical threat to American security: the danger of catastrophic environmental damage caused by global climate change. As Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, our shores are highly vulnerable to powerful hurricanes; and higher ocean temperatures, caused by global warming, are producing increasingly violent ones. Global warming is also contributing to the extreme drought and susceptibility to voracious forest fires in many areas of the American West. By reducing our petroleum consumption and relying more on ethanol, bio-diesel, wind power, solar, and other domestically-produced, alternative sources of energy -- but especially by putting our money into the development of such alternatives rather than to imperial expansion around the globe -- we can, in the long run, reduce our exposure to violence abroad and to environmental catastrophe at home.

To be a link, here, being righteous is enough!
  • In the cool photography department, the Accidental Russophile found an amazing gallery of photos of Moscow subway construction. Here's a view you'll never get as a tourist!

  • Thanks to the Guardian's weblog for this defense of financial assistance to economically distressed countries despite the frequent reality of corruption in the aid industry.

  • Reedwood Friends Church's adult forum is considering the topic of forgiveness. We spent part of one session on the Retha McCutchen's article, "Try What Forgiveness Will Do," in the March-April 2006 Quaker Life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WOWEE!!! those photos are AWESOME! the structures are just amazing...it almost looks like you're inside a huge gut. i like the ones without the people in them better.

and two hugs to michael t klare. should be michael t clear; 'twould match his thinking that way.