Reservations about this tipping point in Iraq

Wednesday 09 April 2003 at 14:14

I'm sincerely happy for the Iraqi people who are celebrating in Baghdad today. This war has gripped me with very mixed emotions. Even as I have opposed US military action, I have been unable to imagine a convincing non-violent way to remove Saddam Hussein from power. I don't object to the ends, but I do object to the means. I wish Gandhi could comment on it.

Google pointed me to some quotes from Gandhi that articulate my concerns about the use of violence even for as noble a cause as liberation from tyranny. Both quotes are from Gandhi's thoughts on violence and terrorism

I object to violence because, when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.

A perfect example of long-term consequences of violence, this war was precipitated by the US support for Iraq in their war with Iran, who were supported by the Soviets. The US and USSR waged war with each other through these middle eastern countries. Iraq and Iran had their own animosity, but their conflict was fueled by the super powers. In our fear of communism we armed Iraq with the very weapons which originally motivated our present invasion. The Iraqi blood Saddam has spilled is also on our hands, not Saddam's alone. Perhaps this is a long overdue correction to the imbalances created in our protracted cold war with the Soviets. But that isn't the spin we get from the White House. Instead we get a Hollywood-style spin, ironically, with the US wearing white hats and Saddam and his sons in black hats. Good propaganda is true, but simplistic and one-sided. Even as the Iraqi's celebrate, I believe strongly that violent solutions create as many problems as they solve.

It is an unshakable faith with me that a cause suffers exactly to the extent that it is supported by violence. I say this in spite of appearances to the contrary. If I kill a man who obstructs me, I may experience a sense of false security. But the security will be short-lived. For I shall not have dealt with the root cause. In due course, other men will surely rise to obstruct me. My business, therefore, is not to kill the man or men who obstruct me, but to discover the cause that impels them to obstruct me and deal with it.

More conflicting emotions. I'm sincerely happy for the Iraqi people and optimistic about their future. But I wonder about the repercussions of preemptive and violent overthrow of a foreign dictator. It's like a code smell that I can't quite identify. I'm fairly sure the violence has something to do with it. It's a big ball of mud that I don't know how to refactor.

Update: My earlier letter to the White House provoked an interesting conversation on this subject

James D. Boyd commented

02 June 2003 at 17:15

I began here today in my meditative surf. Thanks for inspiring me.

From another of the Ghandi quotation pages linked above:
"Violence does not mean emancipation from fear, but discovering the means of combating the cause of fear. Non-violence, on the other hand, has no cause for fear. The votary of non-violence has to cultivate the capacity for sacrifice of the highest type in order to be free from fear. He racks not if he should lose his land, his wealth, his life. He who has not overcome all fear cannot practice ahimsa to perfection. The votary of ahimsa has only one fear, that is of God. He who seeks refuge in God ought to have a glimpse of the Atman that transcends the body; and the moment one has a glimpse of the Imperishable Atman, one sheds the love of the perishable body. Training in non-violence is thus diametrically opposed to training in violence. Violence is needed for the protection of things external, non-violence is needed for the protection of the Atman, for the protection of one's honour."

Tr. note:
*Ahimsa ==> "Do no harm"
*Himsa ==> harm
*Atman ==> "Life energy"

Bells go off in my head that point me to conversations with you, Eric, when I see fear implicated in sin. Ted Peters, my professor here at PLTS and overall well respected theologian, talks about the stages toward sin that begin with anxiety and culminates in blasphemy.
Anxiety is the first step on the path of sin.
Violence is discovering the means to combat fear.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

Here is the question for You: How do I remove the fear in my own life (not combat it), and how do I help You to remove the fear in your own?
I suspect that incorporating into my own being Your answer to the second part will answer the first part for me.

Bon Appetite,

eric commented

07 June 2003 at 11:36

Hi Jim.

Thanks for your comments, and very nice to hear from you. (How cool is this blog medium?) Ironically, the quote sounds strikingly similar to the words of a Samurai valuing honor even above life. There's a profound difference in the violence of the Samurai from the non-violence of Gandhi, but I think an equally profound similarity in strength and courage and power.

As to the question about fear, there is definitely a connection between releasing one's own fear and releasing the fear of one's friends and family. I'll have more to say about this in coming posts.