Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Limits of the Use of Violence

That is the lesson presented in Israel, and in Iraq. Of course even the similarity between them is not noted; nor is the lesson about violence. The real lesson is the futility of the reliance on violence. That is part of the radical nature of the teachings of Jesus, a radical nature we also too often overlook. The Roman Empire depended on violence, too. The Pax Romana ruthlessly suppressed all political and civil dissent from the ideal of Rome. Pilate's palace loomed down over the courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem, the better to keep an eye on things, especially during Passover.

To proclaim a basileia tou theou was radical enough; the salt in the wound was the idea it was based not on worth, but on humility; not on power, but on powerlessness, which requires absolute trust in God. It was hand in hand with the proclamation that all good came from God, not from the rule of Caesar; and still we insist government must provide the good for us, and that good must come from doing violence to others.

Israelis speak of the "Lebanese mud." Quite a reversal from the Biblical cedars of Lebanon, symbols of power and authority. But everything is grounded in earth, begins there, reaches up from there. If you start in mud, no matter how high you think you reach, the mud still has first claim on you. It is still where you stand.

We never transcend the mud; we simply overlook it.

On the streets, the tallies are borne out in flesh and blood. Each day, the bodies pile up at Baghdad’s main morgue: burned with acid, riddled with bullets, blindfolded, handcuffed, drilled with holes.

Many Baghdad residents will no longer stray from their own neighborhoods. Shops in most neighborhoods close by 2 p.m., if they open at all. Gun-toting militiamen from the Mahdi Army roam the streets unmolested.

Gauging the performance of the Iraqi security forces is difficult. Every night, the American military sends e-mail messages announcing that Iraqis have raided insurgent hide-outs, detained suspects or thwarted suicide bombers.

“I tell you this personally,” said Brig. Gen. David D. Halverson, the deputy commander of the American division that oversees the capital, “the Iraqi forces have stood up and fought very well.”
We are not controlling the violence in Baghdad, and our only proposal is to employ more violence to do so. The death rate in Iraq is 100 people per day, most of those in Baghdad. Israel finds itself mired in a war it may not be able to get out of. The real question is not how to stop the violence now. The real question is: why did we ever rely on violence in the first place?

The real limit on the use of violence is that violence knows no limits; it only knows exhaustion. With a little rest, it resumes again. And it continues to pull us along with it, imagining the whole time that we stand above the mud, and control our own destinies through that which controls us.

More of a footnote than a separate post, this, I think, is exactly right, at least as far as a "solution" goes:

The only responsible way out of Iraq involves all the things President Bush refused to consider on the way in. That means enlisting help from some of the same Arab neighbors and European allies whose opinions and suggestions were scornfully ignored before the invasion. Getting their assistance would be a humbling experience. Americans may feel the war is going badly, but they have not been prepared to acknowledge failure.
Funny, for all our insistence on being a "Christian" nation, the idea of being humble is never a part of that self-image.

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