by Dee Newman
Conflict and violence are unavoidable. Striving to end them, though a worthy aspiration, has never and will never fully be successful. The actions of others are beyond our control. The only thing we can control is our response.
When others attack us, our instinctive reaction is to want to attack back. But, retaliation, simply adds fuel to the fire, encouraging further violence, endangering the lives of others and ourselves. The evidence of this is overwhelming. Just look at the hundreds of thousands of lives – American, Afghani, and Iraqi citizens - lost in our wars of retribution since 9/11. Our revenge has come at an enormous price – of lives and treasure.
The Paris attacks have sparked, once again, a massive wave of intolerance and anti-Muslim bigotry and vitriol. Thirty Republican governors have said that they would like to prevent Syrian refugees from entering their states, including Governor Haslam here in Tennessee. A number of right-wing Republican presidential candidates have promoted the idea of shutting down mosques and discriminating against refugees on the basis of their religion. A Republican state senator here in Tennessee has stated that it is time for the National Guard to round up all Syrian refugees who have recently settled in the state and to ship them off to who knows where. Republicans in Congress are threatening to cut off funding for refugee assistance while nearly four million Syrian refugees are pleading for asylum, as well as our assistance, compassion, and understanding.
These xenophobic responses to this unprecedented refugee crisis (which our wars of retribution have caused) are not only immoral and un-American, they’re extremely unwise. Discriminating against Syrian refugees doesn't make the United States safer. In fact – quite the opposite: it fuels hatred here at home and resentment and extremism around the world.
The truth is, attacking Muslim refugees makes us less safe. It feeds the extremist propaganda of the Jihadist. But unfortunately, there is a significant number of Americans who are afraid. And, they are being deceived and exploited by shameless, fear-mongering politicians. These politicians who are actively promoting fear and ignorance need to be relentlessly exposed and opposed with an equivalent amount of empowering truth.
While most aware and educated people recognize that one of the missions of the military industrial complex is to keep the majority of us ignorant and in a constant state of fear, unfortunately a large number of respected journalists, news reporters, and commentators continue to promote fear, ignorance, and bigotry while purportedly acting as truth-tellers and advocates for freedom and liberty.
Though I believe that vengeance is an unacceptable way of resolving disputes, I am not a pacifist. The defense of ones interest is morally justified. But, actions have consequences, which are often unintended and unforeseeable. Therefore, violence should only be used as a defense, as a last resort, when all else has failed.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks of you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything in return.”
He was telling us to reach out to others with grace, compassion, and understanding, especially our enemies. So, I say to you, especially those of you who call yourselves Christians, before your cries of vengeance get too loud, have you thought of how you might have turned out if you were brought up in another part of the world in degrading poverty and religious oppression instead of being raised in the richest nation in the history of the world with such incredible freedom and opportunity? Are you sure that you would not be a terrorist yourself?
I am not excusing the horrific murders in Paris and other parts of the world by ISIS, I’m just proposing that our cries for vengeance should be replaced with an appreciation for the grace of fate in each of our lives. Hopelessness, fear, and ignorance could cause any of us to become terrorists.
Is it not possible that if we did as Jesus asked and lived by the Golden Rule – fed the hungry, healed the children of poverty, reached out to everyone with compassion and understanding, and truly loved our enemies – it just might prevent or, at the very least, reduced the endless cycle of vengeance and retribution?