Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Recently I sat at our annual holiday family dinner with people from fourteen to ninety-two years old. Some of the people in their early twenties and thirties were American born and some were recent immigrants from Yugoslavia.
We were talking the state of the world, especially the U.S. occupying Iraq. The conversation was getting heated between those justifying the invasion and occupation of Iraq and those opposed.
“What would you do, as head of the government, if someone in the world had something you needed for survival, like oil or water, and wouldn’t give it to you?” My nephew asked me.
“Talk. Use diplomacy.” I said.
He leaned over the beautifully set dining room table toward me. “What if that didn’t work?”
“Keep trying.” I said.
“That’s crazy. They have no right to not give us what we need.”
Although I was stunned by his attitude, I thought, it’s the same as our government’s, but expressed more forthrightly by my nephew.
Where does the idea come from that the U.S. Government is entitled to take whatever it wants from anyone at any price? Privilege? Ignorance? Arrogance? Military might?
At the heart of the matter lies the tacit assumption that it’s okay to kill people. We are participants in the take-it-for-granted killing. I’m talking about killing and violence as strategies to solve problems. In our country and others there is no question about whether or not killing is an acceptable strategy. It’s a government strategy of, “Whatever it takes to convince the people, that what we want to do________ (fill in the blank) is right.”
I no longer care what the details are in filling in the blanks because the details are supplied by the governments to make us, the people, agree to illegally invade and occupy Iraq, to kill Palestinians in Gaza, turn our collective backs on genocide around the globe. This strategy has a history and it’s called PR, public relations, or propaganda. Lying.
What if our first and only strategies were peace and diplomacy? What if in our communities violence and killing were unacceptable, illegal and the people who did it or ordered it to be done were held accountable? Why is it that holding people accountable is depicted by the Obama administration as not moving forward and therefore dismissed?
What if the billions of dollars we spend on the military each day went instead into creating peace, to educating our kids, providing healthcare to everyone? Our communities might look different.
How we see and understand community today is inseparable from politics. When it’s politically convenient the government, local or federal, paints community as inclusive. People are encouraged to talk about the positive values of community; it takes a village, the benefits of the extended family, community gardens, and Neighborhood Watch. We are encouraged to band together, take things into our own hands and make good things happen, safety and nourishment of our children.
But when that view is politically inconvenient community becomes exclusive and the notion of community is used by the government and their mouthpieces to shut people up and out.
“You have no legitimate right to comment because you aren’t in Iraq, because you aren’t on the police force and don’t know all the details, because you aren’t in the State Department or the CIA so you don’t know what’s really happening, and because you aren’t a part of those communities, you have no legitimate right or credentials to speak.”
Guess what? My legitimate credentials are that I’m a member of the human race and everything that happens to my people affects me and I’m a part of it all. My people are being killed with impunity and are killing with impunity. Everything that happens in our community affects us. We are not innocent bystanders. We are complicit in killing unless we object. Unless we speak out.
Oscar Grant was shot dead while lying face down on a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) platform on New Year’s morning, 2009 by a BART police person in Oakland, California. Chauncey Bailey, a journalist, was shot dead on August 2, 2007 in Oakland, California while investigating Your Black Muslim Bakery. And what about Lavelle Mixon in Oakland in March this year shooting dead four policemen and himself? What about almost sixty people being murdered in my country, the U.S.A., in the last month by rampage gunmen? What do you mean I have no credentials to speak?
Since I live in Berkeley, which borders Oakland, am I allowed to claim only this geographic community as mine to comment on? Community is universal, inclusive. Oscar Grant, Chauncey Bailey, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Darfur, East Timor, Gaza, Sri Lanka, mountaintop removal, rainforest destruction, Tibet are all part of the same Killing Community. Our community. We are its members. What do you mean we have no credentials to speak?
I’m tired of the words people use to legitimize killing. “They broke the cease-fire, they struck first, they are killing their own people, they are a danger to us, we can’t allow them to reject our rules for them.”
On the other hand, the words I want to use to express my feelings about the killing, the slaughter, the massacres, the genocide, the torturing to death, the starvation, the destruction of natural resources, the lack of universal healthcare, and the rape of women and children are outrage, horror, illegal, inhuman. But even these words don’t convey the profound dismay, anger, despair and sadness I feel as a member of our Killing Community.
The devil is in the details.
Does devil mean capacity to lie? Capacity to engender terror? Capacity to betray one’s soul, one’s integrity? Are we trading our collective soul for a return in oil, land, water, lumber, money, a pound of flesh? You may not trade my soul.
People use the details of a situation to argue about who has the moral upper hand. Examine the so-called legal, legitimate arguments for why it’s necessary to torture someone to death, to do extraordinary rendition in order to allow another government to torture someone, why it’s necessary to slaughter, why a government has the right to invade and take over a people in another country and bomb them into submission, starve them out, destroy their culture. Is it okay because the violence is collateral damage, expected, and accidental? All are litigious details.
While men and women in suits argue semantics, some person’s blood drips drop by drop into the earth they lie on, gushes from an artery, soaks their clothes, human dead bodies of adults, teenagers, children and babies and pieces of them are strewn about the earth, thrown into secret mass graves, and buried by family members. White phosphorus silently eats the skin of the living and dead. Yes, the devil is in the details.
But the devil is not an alien being. The devil is us. That’s how the destruction is happening. We have the capacity for betrayal of our souls and we’re exercising it. It’s me. It’s you.
What aspects of me shall I exercise? Fear, revenge, and domination, or can I exercise compassion, courage, and cooperation? We need to look to compassionate guidelines and international agreements to support us in seeing a more hopeful humane possibility. We need to study and practice peace and compassion.
You can’t see the forest for the trees is the sister of the devil is in the details. While governments argue the semantic details, of what constitutes torture, who is allowed to intervene on genocide and who isn’t, and what specifics constitute war crimes, people are being blown up. The trees, branches and leaves of semantic justifications, obfuscate the forest of killing.
The damn forest is lost. It makes me feel like screaming. KILLING living beings. Is it ever justified? And I don’t want a legal response. Get the picture. Smell the stench.
You don’t want to read about it and I don’t want to talk about it. But we must.
For the last two decades preschools and elementary schools in this country have been teaching “use your words” to children when there is a disagreement. Just because you can’t have everything you want, don’t resort to a physical altercation as a solution.
This apparently is a teaching only for the young because so soon as one becomes an adult, solutions to disagreements rapidly escalate and narrow to using force, military, psychological, and physical. Bomb them, threaten them, torture them.
On the other hand, perhaps the disagreement between Iraq and the United States may have been easier, more amiably, and equitably resolved if Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush took personal responsibility for their disagreements by engaging in a bout of fisticuffs together. They could have enjoyed taking responsibility for and the consequences of every blow struck. That would have been more to the point and the whole world could have rooted for their favorite fascist. I would have watched it. The market may have soared.
Let’s look at who we’re killing. The enemy. The one inside us or outside us? We’re exercising the enemy inside us when we kill and as we exercise our internal killer capacity, it gains strength. We’re killing compassionate parts of ourselves, growing noncompassionate power.
We become people without compassion, people without peaceful choices, people who can only exercise military and physical domination, we become rigid uncompromising and brittle. We suffer.
Do we really want to continue trying to create an empire through death and destruction? I will not trade my soul for oil, land, money, one ounce of flesh, or anything else.
Do we only have credentials to speak about our own local communities, our own countries, even though we are citizens of the world? And who decides if we have the credentials? Who will print our words in our newspapers? Who will post our words on their political blog? What government representative will answer our letters. Who will invite us to talk on the radio or television? ? We are all responsible.
Women in Afghanistan spoke up on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2009. They wore blue ribbons as a symbol of peace.
Virginia Wolf said, “As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” We can legitimately speak about everything that happens in the world.
In five days it will be March 8, 2010. Have we changed?
We need compassion for ourselves and for everything living. We need to figure out how to nurture life, ourselves, each other, our communities. We need to speak up, act up, write our opinions, and protest killing in every form. Especially now. Now in this country, in the powerful United States, now because it looks as if there may be an opening. A possibility for change, for a different way. A way of renouncing killing and committing to peace, to compassion, to negotiating, to generosity. We must speak at our dinner tables. It is our responsibility as humans. We all have the credentials to speak. And we must listen to each other. We can take compassionate action. Yes, we can, and we must.