08 January 2015

"Don't look for enemies! Look for friends!"

"Don't look for enemies! Look for friends!" Peace demonstration in Moscow, September 21, 2014. Source.

"The enemy of my enemy" is a policy that guarantees
incoherence and confusion. (Source.)
This may be important advice for all of us at a time when every major controversy seems to demand villains. And it was a wonderful, very welcome reminder to see this slogan on the streets of Moscow, where the photo above was taken, when peace advocates were being attacked as traitors. But in a world where "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," where false communities based on authoritarianism and identity politics are common, it's worth thinking about what "looking for friends" really means.

A few weeks ago, our pastor at Eugene Friends Church, Clyde Parker, said in his sermon that (slightly paraphrased) if you don't know my shadow places, you don't know me.  The places where I have struggled, failed ... these are what I'd prefer you didn't know about, but if I keep them hidden from you, I'm undermining our friendship. When I open up to you about what's concealed in my unlit places, I'm basing our friendship on truth, not on shared enemies or even on shared ideals and visions, as important as those ideals might be.

I think this is true not just for people, but as the sign in Moscow implies, it's also true for communities and nations. But it's hard for empires to look for friends, instead of gaining allies by bullying or buying them. You'd think, for example, that the USA would be a bit restrained in criticizing Palestine for joining the International Criminal Court--in other words, for being even more willing to acknowledge the rule of law than the USA is. (The USA has announced that it will not join.) But it's normal behavior for Americans to criticize the failure of the rule of law elsewhere while rejecting the scrutiny of others.

Russia, too, resists looking at reality. Russian officials complain about NATO expansion while demonstrating no understanding of its neighbors' horrible memories of Russia's own historical expansionism, particularly during the Soviet era. One of our friends, a Russian, traveled in the Baltic countries, visiting local Quaker meetings, during the height of the tension around Crimea. She reported that local citizens' fears of an imminent attack from Russia were very real, even though, objectively, an actual attack was highly improbable.

If large nations found ways to be honest and even contrite about their own sins, they might be pleasantly surprised at how ready others are to become friends. Isn't it worth a try? "NO!" -- I can imagine national leaders saying. "My own political base depends on looking strong." And so, for lack of genuine friendship, the whole enemy-driven imperial apparatus keeps shambling, snarling, bullying along.

Let's get in its way. Let's be persistent in repeating and implementing that Moscow demonstrator's call to seek friends, not enemies. May it gain resonance in this new year.

Righteous links:  ~ Remembering Gleb Yakunin, the priest who fought the establishments (plural). More on Father Gleb. ~ New politics of torture. ~ Israel rejected the ticking bomb defense of torture. ~ The tragedy of the American military, and where Fallows' article falls short. ~ Why Jesus wouldn't attend anti-Muslim demonstrations. ~ Stalker as a video game.

Music to count musicians by. (How many are there in this video?) Enjoy!

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