Peace or Violence? How 14 years of Violence made me a Pacifist

This is the post that I wanted to write but could not find a means of doing so after September 11, 2001.  It is also the post that I could not write after George W. Bush declared war on Iraq in March, 2003, paving the way for ISIS, among other things.

For years, I saved this newspaper in my dresser drawer. Our neighbor had been on one of the planes.
For years, I saved this newspaper in my dresser drawer. Our neighbor had been on one of the planes.

This is the post that I tried to write about after the London bombings on July 7, 2005 — my 21st birthday.  As you can see, I was still unable to express much more than shock.

This is the post I could not write after the 2013 Boston Marathon, nor after waking up on Friday, April 19th and discovering that my city was under lockdown, my mother-in-law’s neighborhood was being searched, and the whole state was asked to keep mum.

I would pass this memorial on a weekly basis.
I would pass this memorial on a weekly basis.

This was the post that I could not write after the murders in North Carolina, despite seeing a professor visibly shaken by what had happened to members of his own faith in a region he knew so well.  It was the post that I could not write after the first attack in Tunisia, even as a Tunisian colleague struggled to express himself and his emotions.  I tried once again after the Tunis beach shooting during Ramadan, the holy month where one must abstain from even disputes and arguments, but still failed to say what I wanted.

However, with the Paris attacks something finally changed.  Perhaps there is something to be said for the way in which repetition helps bring thoughts to the surface.  Perhaps there is something to be said for having skin in the game.  Perhaps it all came down to the passing of time.

WTF is going on in Paris?!?

Whatever that change was, this is the post that started to form as I reacted to the first news –vague, and with no details–that a pop station d.j. announced about the Paris attacks.  This is the post that started to form as I texted my husband, a French citizen, “WTF is going on in Paris?!? I just heard that there are 60 dead, hostages, and multiple shootings.”

It is the post that continued to form when, upon arriving home, my husband, visibly trying to process the news that was coming in while keeping himself together, said that his mind was in a “very dark place” and he didn’t want to take me there because he wasn’t sure he could even pull himself out, let alone me.

It was the post that formed as I noticed that those people who I know are either French citizens, French residents, or have close ties with France, generally stayed quiet over the weekend while everyone else wanted to talk. (And talk they did.)

This is not an angry post.  It is not a post about a loss of innocence, either.  Instead, this is a post about the realities of our world and of human life in general.  It is a post that, I hope, repeatedly articulates the need for peace in place of violence.

It’s taken me 14 years to write this post.  It is far from perfect, but here it is.

 The Answer is “Peace,” Not “Violence”

After 14 years of violent attacks outside of active war zones, including 3 tied to my own personal geography, I do not believe that violence solves anything.  It will not build you the society you so badly desire.  I also believe that it takes a tremendous amount of effort not to be violent, either in words or actions.  We humans have emotions and we are not robots; as such it is very difficult indeed to find the balance between honoring your emotions and letting them carry you away.

Yet it is with our better natures in mind–the ones that allow us to use emotion but not be driven from it, the ones that form coherent arguments on the basis of evidence rather than opinion or telos–that I set out the following observations.

1. No place is safe from acts of violence.

Paris was not the first place for this type of violence.  It will certainly not be the last place, either. If someone wants to harm you (both on an abstract and on a personal level), they will find a way to do this.  You can be sitting in a café near a market, going to a concert, or going to school.  You can be inside your own house and still get killed.  The only way you won’t get killed is if your killer is somehow stopped beforehand.

2. Thinking that you are somehow magically removed from all forms of violence just because your personal “risk is lower” is a fallacy.

No matter your national affiliation, gender presentation, biological sex, race, or even zip code, statistically, that risk can, and will, happen.

3. Security can certainly lower your risk of violent attacks, but you can’t have every place be under lockdown. 

Or go through metal detectors and body scanners and get a pat-down. It is simply not feasible.  And even in places where you do have security are not foolproof.

4. Fixing “that one thing” will never solve a problem.

If just one thing needs to be fixed in order to solve the issue, what you have is an obstacle, not a problem.  Problems are problems because they are multi-faceted in nature, complete with many moving parts that do not agree with each other nor do they form stable bonds.  They are akin to unstable molecules in chemistry; remove one thing and the whole structure just collapses.  Anyone who thinks that all we need to do is just “destroy ISIS”–and there are many–has once again confused a problem and an obstacle.

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 12.58.44 AM

5. Anyone who can’t admit that life is painful and chaotic is selling something.

They are selling war, they are selling fear, they are selling utopias that can’t exist in this world because their fantasies are predicated not on finding a way to live together despite our differences, as indeed, all animals must do, but on finding ways to completely eradicate things that cause them pain, including other human beings.  To respond to their calls and cries of annihilation with our own cry to do the same is just another side of the same coin.

6. Nothing is done in a vacuum.

All of our actions create reactions (most of them unknown until after the fact).  Just because we try to isolate ourselves from them, isolation from a reaction is not the same thing as “no reaction.”  We can’t keep acting as though Newton’s Third Law does not apply.

7. All of our actions will not prevent or alter our own mortality.

 The very principle of “life” rests on the fact that it has an opposite, namely “not life.”  To being life, we are “born”; to leave life and enter not-life, we “die.”  There is nothing we can do to change this.

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 12.44.09 AM

8. The way out of violence, be it domestic or international in nature, is not through more violence.  

We do not teach our children to hit other children.  We do not teach domestic abuse victims or sexual assault survivors to brutally assault their attackers in retaliation and retribution. Why then do we think that meeting violence with violence will keep our countries and our citizens safe?  We have had enough wars just during my brief lifetime to show that warfare does not end violence, nor does it bring peace.  Going backwards in history will certainly underscore my point.

9. The only way out of violence, is through peace.  

Violence, as we’ve seen, will not stop you from dying.  It will not keep you safe.  It will have reactions that come back to bite you again and again, and in ways that you never predicted.  With such a track record, violence is disqualified as a means of bringing about peace.  The only way to get peace — which will lessen violence — is by giving and practicing peace.  Indeed, only when you want peace far more than you want war will you be able to counter violence.

If we want peace, we’re going to have to work for it.  If we want to end violence, we must all practice peace.  This is not an easy thing to do, but it has a far lower cost to us all.

The good news is that people are standing in solidarity for peace.  They are praying for peace and updating their social media posts with calls for peace, not violence.  Let’s not waste that sentiment.

Vigil in Lausanne, Switzerland for the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Ankara
Vigil in Lausanne, Switzerland for the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Ankara

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