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September 11 - Dealing with Violence

The attack of September 11 made one thing clear: they wanted us out, they hated us. What to do? Just get out and let them win?

One thing is true ‘they’ were grasping for our attention, and the objective was clear: stop doing that. But how to respond is much less clear. It is true that fear, and acting on fear, usually doesn’t lead to good places. Getting out of the Midlle East would be a senseless act, driven perhaps by not recognizing our own strength and it would leave the people in the region left to the greedy, merciless acts of the lords of terror, who use any kind of terror to get where they want.

As spokesmen of the land of freedom we have a duty not only to maintain but, whenever possible, to extend it to others, to stop the terror, and terror based actions, from inflicting the world. So, it should be clear that, whatever the response we choose, we should not bend to fear, nor be afraid of retaliations. In that sense, the war against terrorism must be on all fronts, no sparing, no mercy.

But, when we fight, we should not let our eyes close. Fear and hate create pledges for our eyes to close. When faced with violence, what other thing can we do but cry, or run, or face and win?

Well, this is partly true. But the thing here is: there’s more to violence than violence. It’s like the symptoms of a disease. If you see bubbles on the skin you might want to take them off, or to cover them with solid cream. But that won’t cure the disease, it will simply erase the effects. In the extreme case you will kill the person to avoid the disease. In a sense it’s a victory – the symptoms won’t come up no more – in another sense, it’s just being dumb – that was not the purpose.

What is the purpose here? To stop the violence, to create a world that all can share in respect for other’s freedom, in safety and, if possible, in love. How many people should we destroy to achieve this? All the active terrorists, all the might-be terrorists, all the middle-east, all of Asia and Africa, and perhaps all the paranoid, schizophrenic, all the poor, all the immigrants, all that appear to have aggressive tendencies or strange beliefs? How can we create a safer world?

The way to deal with external aggressions has a lot of parallels to the way we deal with internal conflicts. How do we deal with them? With an iron hand or with utter disregard?

I think we should disregard violence, in so far as it seems more than a symptom of a deeper need. If someone who we don’t particularly appreciate fells strongly in love with us we can look further beyond the desire, see it’s roots, and we can show to the person that we are just like her. No better, no worst. We have not the solutions, we are not the door or the way, but we’re just wandering, just like him/her, to see how we should live our life. In the same way, if someone attacks us on the street, we must show: look we’re just alike: we have the same powers, the same abilities, I may have even more, and I can do a lot of good, look at me, how beautiful I am.

The practical way to achieve this might be far from easy. An obsessed person might continue to see everything we do as the shinning of perfection, and a hating person might not be able to see beyond the mask that he/she has put on us. But it is necessary to try to break that mask.

I believe all violence comes from ignorance and feelings of solitude. We must respond to ignorance with knowledge and we must respond to rejection by loving the person. The answer to terrorism may happen to become also terror. This is the true hallmark of a victory on the terrorism side. A free society, on the other hand, with true power, must not only win over the terrorist act, but also supersede the terrorist way of feeling and of thinking. We can do this by replacing the feeling of rejection by the feeling of nurture, and the blinding ignorance with knowledge and compassion.

When we stand before hate or passion there is indeed little we can do except being subdued, fight or flee. That is true. But dealing with hate and passion is not enough if we want to supersede them with mutual love and harmony. In other words, hit with undesired love we tend to flee, hit with unexpected indifference we tend to pursue or blame. We tend to balance things. But, acting in this way, we only achieve balance through disequilibrium. We must look further to the deeper roots of conflict, that is the only way to achieve mutual love and understanding, without which there can be no sustainable freedom.

Current events and some kinds of action the US have taken after the attacks (specially regarding Israel) are deeply unsettling, they are not promoting the end of terrorism, because they are based on terror themselves. The symptoms of war in the middle east, the escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine is a clear sign that violence, although not in the States, is rising all over the world. The terrorists real achievement was great: to turn the US (momentarily I hope) into their own armed arm. To spread violence in the name of peace, and repression in the name of freedom.

Pedro Fonseca - April 2002