Category Archives: Peace

One Doesn’t Make Peace with Objects

“Muslim extremist.” “Infidel.” “Towelhead.” “Crusader.”

Putting labels on people is gratifying: it’s an attack on their honor, reduces the respect due them as humans and, if possible, make them seem less than human, even less than animals.

Labels are chosen carefully. “Dogs” is a great cuss word by Muslims, given its internal Islamic religious denotation — one that is not shared in the same way by the targets of such insults. The label of “pigs” is a word choice guaranteed to anger even a moderate, pious Muslim. Dogs and pigs are killed as a matter of course in religious countries: their connection to filth and disease is something. That list in the first line of this post goes past animal, straight to animus.

Once we reduce a person to an object it’s harder to identify with them. You don’t automatically hate Farah when you pass her in in Wal-Mart or Marks & Spencer if she’s wearing a hijab or a chador. But if I identify that person as a “sand rat” I’d look down at her as a dirty animal, out of place in a brightly-lit store with orderly shelves.

Nazis used this technique with great success to dehumanize Jews, to make it easier for neighbors and business associates to part with Jews who had, up to that point, integrated successfully in Western Europe.

Westerners use it to isolate, vilify and attack those who look different. Fanatics of all faiths brand everyone not fitting their exacting (and sometimes ever-changing) standards. In Judaism, religious extremists slap the label apikoros (apostate) or goy (gentile) on anyone they want to exclude from their self-declared higher plane.

It’s difficult to bargain with lesser beings. One makes peace with enemies, not friends, despite all the protests against talks with Iran, North Korea, and the Afghani Taliban among others. One does not engage in anything but eradicating dirty animals.

A coda: women reduced to body part names are put into the same place. While there are no peace talks expected between men and women, reducing a woman to how she looks or what sex acts she might perform lets men afraid of their dominance feel better about their misogyny.

The Peace of Cessation of Control

It’s comforting, when driving a vehicle, to control it, keeping it from barreling into pedestrians or buildings. Chefs depend on the control over their knives, creating food from ingredients instead of playing solitaire mumbletypeg at too close a range. Control is what turns a random bunch of folks with instruments into a marching band. And it consists of self-control, willingness to take direction, and presuming that the environment will cede to the needs of the group.
North Korea’s leadership believes it can only survive through armed bellicosity and total population control.

Iceland has a coast guard and a few planes, and participates, as a member of NATO, in military duties with the few resources it has. Of course, being a small, Arctic nation helps keep things quiet.

Costa Rica has no army, yet it sits on the drug route, and has neighbors with a long history of a penchant for conflict and control rather than cooperation. There’s a cost for not having an army: control of the borders depends on another country not taking control. The catchphrase used by Ticans, as the natives call themselves, is “pura vida.”

Parents have choices in their control. At the extreme ends are those who strive either to utterly control their children’s environments, or those who renounce all controls around what their children are exposed to, or choose.

A parent myself, I’ve been two out of three of those. What I’ve learned (the hard way, of course) is that attempts at utter control fail, unless participants accept it, and the environment allows it. And I’m proud to say that, despite some of my parenting ideas, decisions and methods, my children have flourished and are positive influences on their friends and society in general.
It’s important for parents to present and promulgate the cultural mores in which they believe. Letting children make all their own decisions based on their exposure to the environment is rather like opening Petri dishes and expecting every growth to be an antibiotic: there’s plenty of negative memes and practices in even the more “successful” culture (the definition of such is left to the reader).

It’s equally important for parents to let their children make their own choices. They may not like them, and their offspring might well rue them, but the outcome is a person who sees their cultural background as something positive, perhaps even something to be passed along to the next generation.

Whatever we may think, the result of oppressive parenting – or oppressive governance in religious or national settings – is a population with elements of oppositional behavior just because of the sheer energy involved in having to live to someone else’s ideas of right, correct and just.

Peace, personally and on the geopolitical scale, comes from ceasing to try and control the uncontrollable, and focusing on guiding, healing and mentoring children – or subjects – to allow them the emotional and mental space to come to a point where they can, if they wish, voluntarily accept whatever mores and laws presented to them.

Repression and compliance in fear do not promulgate a culture, they merely enforce it. And in doing so, plant the seeds of that culture. The outside world is too visible, too invasive, for xenophobic or cruel behavior to flourish. Even in the hinterlands of Waziristan, even in the hill country of Georgia, even in the town of New Square in New York, people can pick up on ideas from “the outside.” And parents – or leaders – attempting to expunge them result in pushing those ideas deeper, more solidly, into the cultures that would utterly reject them.

Peace is the Absence of Fear as Much as Anger

UntitledAs someone who’s served in combat in the military in the Middle East I’m very familiar with fear and anger. A grandmother, in the street at 3AM along with her family – almost everyone in their apartment – waiting to have their IDs checked. Her fear of loss. Her anger at lack of control. Of the sullen, old men, deemed not “dangerous” enough to be hidden away, ashamed of losing honor in front of their families and neighbors. Of the fear in the soldiers and officers in having to be so close to so many unknown, unsearched people. Afraid of the buildings looming even one story above, and the snipers they might hide.

I was raised in a religious home, and had extensive contact with more religiously conservative – the so-called “ultra-Orthodox” community. I’ve talked with former girlfriends happy and secure in their place, shaved head covered by an expensive wig, focusing on children and household and not the secular world beyond that. And other friends, happily married or not, who love their religion but chafe at some gender-based restrictions. And men, “haredim,” (which means ‘those who fear’) wallowing in that state: afraid to give the idea of an offense to god, afraid of outside influences wending their way into their communities. Afraid that their carefully constructed social labyrinths might be deconstructed. That women and children might be exposed to more than just their point of view.

Living in Texas I see the same from some ultra-conservative Christian families, who live in fear of hell, of sin, of their children’s ruin by exposure to secular society, where ideas roam free for adoption, rejection, or modification.

The theme of fear of losing control, anger at not having control, and further anger at those they believe have caused said loss of control, keep people from even the semblance of peace. Religious leaders willing to send adherents to a martyr’s death rather than lose power and influence, the government afraid to let women drive lest they somehow be corrupted by the act of being far from male dominance. Governments afraid to loosen their death grips on their populace lest they be less seen as Dear Leaders.

Peace, I am only beginning to see, lies in understanding that there is the very small set of things one controls or influences. Everything else works its own machinations, impinging on one’s sphere of influence at its, and not our, whim.