A sudden thunderstorm caught me as I walked in my neighborhood recently, some weeks after Independence Day. In the calm following the wind and rain, I found myself ducking in and out of yard after yard to indignantly prop up and replant all the little made-in-China plastic flags which had blown over into undignified little crash-sites. I felt a deep sadness at the thought that my country relies upon such a thin, flag-waving kind of patriotism to keep it safe and prosperous in such stormy times. Shallow nationalism can never protect us from the coming tumults of the twenty-first century, because nationalism too often puts short-term national greed and safety above the very reasonable right of all peoples everywhere, ourselves included, to live life in peace, and to build within our own cultural traditions and with the generous and peaceful support of others, ever more justice, freedom, and opportunity.
America recently has had a difficult time getting its arms around that oh-so-important concept of a universally agreed-upon, despisable national “enemy.” “Terrorists” and “terrorism” worked for a while, at least so long as people could conceive of unprovoked armies of irrational suicidal Islamic extremist nutcases eager to kill innocents for world domination. Thanks to our still-free press and internet, we are finally learning that what Islam wants most is to be left to live and conduct their own affairs in peace. Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Iranians, Syrians, Lebanese, even members of Hamas and Hezbollah, are not the maniacal fanatics we were once convinced were so envious of our freedoms that they continually plotted to invade America, to randomly kill, destroy, steal our resources, and ravage our way of life.
Unfortunately, too many Muslims believe that this is exactly what American leadership is about.
Because by flag-waving and fear-mongering, by arguing specialized expertise and inside knowledge, by offering leaky rationales about why America should aggressively “protect” not only our own country but others’ as well, narrow-minded and unrepresentative American leaders sometimes do indeed seem bent upon terrorizing everyone everywhere—Americans included.
Who gains from this insanity? A handful of wealthy political insiders and war profiteers who pocket the billions in war money our citizenry pours out—along with our children’s blood—tax money which should have been spent on worthwhile causes at home and abroad, and which is instead buying more fear, and its progeny—anger, vengeance, guilt, cruelty, misery, hatred. Soon, even more of our hard-earned money will be required to restore good will and rebuild destruction, money which will once again fill the coffers of rich opportunists.
A tragic result of American expansionism is a generation of angry, fearful, vengeful, polarized American citizens who have swallowed a steady diet of Limbaughesque propaganda justifying endless wars and goading a steady supply of soldiers. I recently heard a caller assert on C-Span that “America has the right to kill every man, woman and child in Lebanon because….” Whatever nonsense followed the word “because,” I shudder to think any human could place his faith in a theory which morally or legally justifies wiping out a whole country. And yet, to many Americans, “Nuke ‘em!” is the final solution to all our political problems.
We live in the richest, best-armed, most powerful nation the world has ever known, and yet we have become convinced that we should be the most frightened and the most belligerent.
Wiser leaders would work to create a peaceful, helpful, cooperative foreign policy and educational system (beginning by passing the excellent legislation establishing a cabinet-level Department of Peace—(see www.thepeacealliance.org .) We could sustain a patient, accepting American citizenry skilled in peace-making in both their personal and political lives, rather than continually advocate for the morality of threatening and killing as a solution for political challenges. As Islamic nations do, we should condemn all wars except those against invaders who violently attempt to invade and conquer our homelands.
Many Christians hope their faith will spread around the world (and many proselytize to spread it); just so do many Muslims hope their faith will eventually prevail globally. No one knows what the future holds, and only time will tell. So far, though, no Muslims (unless you count allies the West selects, empowers, and backs, like Saddam Hussein) violently invade and occupy others’ countries, nor commandeer others’ valuable resources, nor force changes in others’ institutions at the point of a gun.
In this heavily-armed world, as in all previous worlds, only one enemy has ever pressed for world domination, only one enemy strives ceaselessly to throw every nation into never-ending inhumane wars. That enemy is neither terrorist, nor fanatic, nor extremist, neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Muslim, neither Fascism, nor Nazism, nor Communism, nor globalization.
The common enemy of mankind, the one ever urging us toward war and torture and every other kind of terror, is fear—in all its forms—fear of change, fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of the unknown and unfamiliar and different, fear of want, fear of death and loss, fear of despair, fear of the past, fear of abandonment, fear of guilt and blame, fear of losing control, fear of being helpless and hurt, fear of being wrong….
This universal enemy of all mankind—this eternal enemy of Islam and the West alike—will always be fear itself (one name for what many traditional religions call “the devil.”) And what is fear’s remedy? Love, in all its forms—diplomacy, dialogue, negotiation, ideas, faith, hope, trust, cooperation, cultural exchange, understanding, love, kindness, acceptance, forgiveness, peace….
The very concept of the word, “enemy,” is itself a fear-based mistake. Instead of “allies” and “enemies,” we could choose—both personally and nationally—to see all people everywhere, ourselves included, as variously falling intermittently into either of two very similar camps—people currently offering help, and people who currently need help.
Human beings everywhere quite reasonably wish to preserve what they see as their good old ways, to expand their influence and power, and insure their future security. Yet patriotism/nationalism cannot work, on this small, interconnected, fragile planet, so long as people see “others” of different nations as less valuable, less important, and somehow separate from “us.” Patriotism/nationalism can only fail whenever it stands in opposition to the highest universal human value—support and respect for the quality of human life everywhere. The only rule which works in human relations—both personal and international—is the Golden Rule, treating all others as we would want all others to treat us.
Until Americans stand up together in perfect love to courageously cast out fear, until we proudly support the unselfish ideals which unite us all as Americans—the values proclaiming the equality of all men and the inalienable right of all people everywhere to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—America will continue to be vulnerable to a relentless battery of fearful twenty-first century storms.
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