Today the British government voted to start bombing Da’esh targets in Syria.
I watched as for the past week anger over the French tragedy gave way to hysteria and panic. The public discourse very quickly reached for a violent response. Now, I was told we live in a rational society. Clearly we don’t.
It was a point well made by Tony Benn that the victims of the blitz in London were only stronger in their resolve and opposition to Germany, it only encouraged more young men to sign up to fight. It is apparently too hard to imagine that Arab people have the same prides, vulnerabilities, desires and doubts as Westerners so we presume that things which are true for us are not true for them.
They are barbaric and backwards, we are enlightened and White.
The point which I do not think has been made well enough is that the nonviolent position was so instantly dismissed by the press and the politician so as to make me wonder whether there was some deep part of the collective unconscious which desired acts of violence. Now of course we are an enlightened people who would never be so blinded by base instincts like revenge, aren’t we? That’s what Israel and Palestine do, not the behaviour of sophisticated Western nations.
To oppose another war is not pacifism, it’s hard-headed common sense
Actually opposing war is pacifism. What I am wondering is, why couldn’t Jeremy have said this? Why did the Labour Leader have to sell a nonviolent solution as having nothing to do with ‘pacifism’ or ‘nonviolence’ as ideas or movements?
What I have seen today is a mainstream dialogue which has no patience for new solutions based on observable facts and rooted in transcendent values. It is plain that before the discussion is had, there is an inherent mistrust of nonviolence. Why is it mistrusted? It’s hardly as though violence has produced such fantastic results in the past decade that it is worthy of inherent trust. Indeed I would have thought the case for violence would have to be argued all the more precisely.
Precise argument is not called for when Paris is burning. I just wish someone had called for a precise argument before we made Kabul a smoking crater. I think the residents would have been well served by that.
The fact is that people who look and sound like white Westerners suffered and so narrow is our viewpoint that their suffering matters more than the suffering of the Arab world.
The fact is that the only thing which has made bombing Syria more compelling to the British politician is that people who matter to us were hurt.
The fact is we have done so little thus far, have not thought of any other more effective solutions that only violence can resolve our despair.
So why is pacifism and nonviolence so flatly dismissed?
Pacifism is dismissed in the aftermath of an attack because it is hard. The rush of angst such an attack produces, like the expletive which erupts for the lips of the one who slices their hand on a tool, is for the one who has been attacked to resolve their angst. Unfortunately lashing out to resolve anger is not an effective foreign policy. Also, any responsible parent will quickly teach their child not to do this as it is an irresponsible and ineffective way to behave in the rational world.
As long as it is assumed that war is always an available option, we will not be forced to imagine any alternative to war.
I am a pacifist because I have the theological conviction that Jesus commands his followers not to use violence. I am able to write these thoughts because of this conviction. I am glad of Jeremy Corbyn’s conviction that war should not be an option, it means that new solutions can be imagined. However it seems a rare thing that conviction should transcend feeling today.