I think it’s important for everyone to consider the multitude of options we all have for dealing with-even violent-problems other than using violence. I’m very grateful to Tikkun and Rabbi Lerner for consistently providing a peace and spirit based perspective on alternatives to business as usual.
Editor’s Note: Tikkun seeks to present a range of views that you wouldn’t hear in the mainstream media, without necessarily endorsing those perspectives. Please remember that Tikkun’s own position is articulated only in our editorials.
In my view, the important article by David Swanson that I’m sharing below may be underestimating the venality and murderous nature of the ISIS coalition that he describes. Unlike Hamas and unlike the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, ISIS appears to have genocidal intent toward Christians and Shia Muslims (and possibly also toward Sunnis who don’t share their perspective and almost certainly toward Jews).
On the other hand, I know that I don’t know who they really are or even what they are really doing. I’ve read enough lies about previous run-up to wars in the Western media to know not to believe anything I read, but only to consider that the media’s account is one possible way of viewing the reality.
I also know that the gruesome accounts of murders committed by ISIS are shocking to a U.S. audience in part because the far greater number of people killed by the U.S. interventions in the Middle East, South East Asia, Central and South America have never been presented in an honest way to the American people. Most of us have not heard the gruesome details or stories of the families that have lost loved ones as a result of U.S. military and CIA actions.
Accounts of how ISIS members used waterboarding on their captives have been told in a way that dramatizes the inhumanity of a tactic that was used on many, many of those held by the United States in Guantanamo and in more secret detention and torture facilities run by or contacted by the United States around the world.
Yet U.S. feelings of rage about waterboarding were never directed at those who perpetrated and those who approved that torture, so people like George W. Bush and former vice president Cheney and the many under them in the chain of command who carried out these outrageous acts have never been brought to trial.
When it’s ISIS that commits these abuses, we are encouraged to think of their actions as reasons for war; when it’s our U.S. leaders who commit the same abuses, we don’t even think it sufficient reason to put them in prison!
“On the other hand”, my outrage at acts that we in the U.S. have committed does not diminish my outrage at what ISIS is doing, if the media accounts are even partially correct, and my desire to want to stop them before more people are murdered. But how? Not in a way that will have even worse consequences, in the way that the U.S. ouster of Saddam Hussein’s (who should have spent the rest of his life in prison) led to the growth of ISIS.
Our inclination always at Tikkun is to ask the following question of any group espousing hateful ideas (including haters among Christian, Jewish Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist fundamentalist movements; followers of secular right-wing or fascist groups; and those who adhere to the ultra-nationalistic, ultra-militaristic tendencies within American and Israeli nationalism, as well as any other kind of nationalism): *What are the underlying needs that these movement are speaking to that might be legitimate needs of the people who respond to them? And how do we then develop strategies to separate those legitimate needs from the fascistic, racist, or irrational ways that people seek to meet those needs through these hateful and sometimes violent movements?*
These are the questions that I’ve answered in some detail in my books “The Politics of Meaning”,” Spirit Matters”, and “The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right”. The goal is not to excuse outrageous and murderous acts, but to figure out how to disempower the murderers, whether they be American, Iraqi, Chinese, Russian, Israeli, or from Hamas. The goal is to ensure that their followers don’t move on to some other equally terrible movement or murderous sect or religion or nationalism once these particular murderers are gone.
If you read those books you’ll see why I’m inclined to think that Swanson is moving in a good direction but lacks some of the psychological and spiritual tools necessary to make his strategy successful. One of those tools is a Global Marshall Plan (please download it at tikkun.org/GMP and read the full 32-page brochure). The problem with mentioning the GMP is that people immediately think it’s primarily about giving money. But it’s not. It is predicated on a strategy of showing respect and genuine caring for the well-being of all people on the planet. This caring would be conveyed partly through money, but more importantly through a fundamental transformation brought about by the Western world in adopting the New Bottom Line laid out in detail at tikkun.org/covenant.
Without that approach, the United States will have no tools for dealing with ISIS, and so inevitably the people of this country will fall back onto violence and war making.
“Fine,” you may say, “but what are we supposed to do NOW? Don’t you realize that these people are a real menace?” That may be true, but the reason it’s true is because people always go to that formulation-the one that led us into a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein in the first place without having any idea of what could replace him. Without that alternative, Swanson’s point is that we created the preconditions for the rise of ISIS.
So, truth is, I don’t know what we should do with ISIS in the short run, except to follow some of the steps that Swanson proposes, other steps that are defined in the Global Marshall Plan and in the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ Spiritual Covenant atspiritualprogressives.org, and yet others that I’ll propose in a subsequent article within the next few weeks.
While these steps may not be sufficient, I know for sure that taking any other path that doesn’t “also” include these steps is bound to simply recreate the set of circumstances that have led us into the current mess. The one thing I’m sure about: if some kind of intervention is justified, and I think it may be, it should be genuinely led by the United Nations and “not” by the United States. And it should not occur solely at the initiative of the United States.
If the people of the world are ready to take some action, let us follow their leadership rather than intervene alone-U.S. hands are, as they say in law, “dirty hands” and hence not able to provide ethically credible leadership. So please do read Swanson’s insightful article. And then please also read David Sylvester’s post on Tikkun Daily [ http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/08/28/pope-francis-lesson-the-abrahamic-religions-need-a-spiritual-summit-meeting-not-dialogue-by-press-statements/ ] with its call for the Abrahamic religions to lead an international summit of religious forces to develop a response to the increasingly murderous realities we face.
*Meanwhile, have a joyous Labor Day 2014! Wouldn’t it be great if this year working people used this day off to figure out how to take back control of our country from the super-rich and powerful so that we too could participate in the discussions that the elite have about which wars to drag us into? Maybe next year?*
-Rabbi Michael Lerner (RabbiLerner.tikkun)