May 18, 2013
Peace Is in the Eye of the Beholder
Posted on Jan 19, 2009
By Chris Hedges
I do not like Hamas. I detest religious fundamentalism and the use of suicide bombers. I find the group’s anti-Semitism and ruthless silencing of internal Palestinian opponents repugnant. The rocket attacks on Israeli civilians are a war crime. But this does not negate the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance to the long Israeli siege and occupation of Gaza.
The moral scum of any society rises to the surface in war. Those who have a penchant for violence and an access to weapons dominate the landscape. It was the criminal class and gangsters who first organized the defense of Sarajevo. It was the thugs of Gaza who took control to confront the Israeli army. This is nothing new in wartime. Violence is a disease, a disease that corrupts all who use it regardless of the cause. But there are moments when a people face the terrible tragedy of resistance or obliteration. This was true in Sarajevo. It is true for the Palestinians. It does not make it pretty or good. It is what happens.
The condemnation of the Palestinians for the use of force ignores the long violence of Israeli occupation. Those who call on the Palestinians to embrace nonviolence preach an airy utopianism. Reinhold Niebuhr, who argued that the rise of fascism in Europe had to be countered by force, broke with liberal humanists over the issue of pacifism. He attacked pacifism as “simply a version of Christian perfectionism.” And Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who preached nonviolence during the civil rights movement, never finally claimed to be a pacifist, although he understood and warned about the moral contamination of violence.
“If we believe,” Niebuhr wrote in his essay “Why the Christian Church Is Not Pacifist,” “that if Britain had only been fortunate enough to have produced 30 percent instead of 2 percent of conscientious objectors to military service, Hitler’s heart would have been softened and he would not have dared attack Poland, we hold a faith which no historic reality justifies.”
“Yet most modern forms of Christian pacifism are heretical,” Niebuhr wrote. “Presumably inspired by the Christian gospel, they have really absorbed the Renaissance faith in the goodness of man, rejected the Christian doctrine of original sin as an outmoded bit of pessimism, have reinterpreted the cross so that it is made to stand for the absurd idea that perfect love is guaranteed a simple victory over the world, and have rejected all other profound elements of the Christian gospel. … This form of pacifism is not only heretical when judged by the standards of the total gospel. It is equally heretical when judged by the facts of human existence. There are no historical realities which remotely conform to it. It is important to recognize this lack of conformity to the facts of experience as a criterion of heresy.”
This aggressiveness, as Sigmund Freud wrote, “… waits for some provocation or puts itself at the service of some other purpose, whose goal might also have been reached by milder measures. In circumstances that are favorable to it, when the mental counter-forces which ordinarily inhibit it are out of action, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals man as a savage beast to whom consideration towards his own kind is something alien.”
It is fear, ignorance, a lack of introspection, a failure of empathy and the illusion that we can create a harmonious world that lead us to sanction the immoral, to embrace Immanuel Kant’s “radical evil.” This is what Israel is doing in Gaza. It is what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. And pacifism, ironically, subtly feeds these illusions.
The American and Israeli doctrine of pre-emptive war, disproportionate force and ruthless occupation to bring about peace and harmony is a fantasy. Such a doctrine regurgitates the old arguments for 19th century European colonialism. Violence and force will not make Israel, or us, safe. It will not turn foreign cultures into carbon copies of our own. It will not make possible our perverted and narrow ideal of human advancement. The violent subjugation of the Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghans will only ensure that those who oppose us will increasingly speak to us in the language we speak to them—violence. The rockets fired into Israel are a response to the siege and occupation. They are a response to the language Israel uses when it addresses the Palestinians. And as long as the siege and occupation continue, as long as Israel speaks to the Palestinians through explosions and airstrikes, so will armed resistance to Israel. Once the dogs of hate and force are unleashed—and it is we and Israel who unleashed them—armed resistance is inevitable.
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