I once asked an Israeli antiwar activist how realistic her hopes for peace were; she had advocated a “one-state” solution in Israel/Palestine, expecting Israelis and Palestinians to live under one flag. Her answer caught me off guard. “How realistic is this?” she shot back, referring to the second intifadah, which was peaking at the time.
Martin Luther King, Jr., said that peace was “neither absurd nor unattainable,” pointing out that “all other methods have failed.” In his 1964 Nobel Laureate acceptance speech, King said, “Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation.”
In “The Disappearance of the Spiritual Thinker,” Pankaj Mishra writes, “By a perversity, peculiar to our times, it is the advocates of nonviolent politics—of negotiation and dialogue—who face skepticism, if not outright derision.” The West’s ideological bent and our unwavering secular faith in history and progress lead us to believe we can forcefully impose our social, political, and economic systems upon others.
The dominant historical stream of thought among Western thinkers—whether communists on the left or neoconservatives on the right—has been not that history is to be navigated but that it is to be made. While we pompously discuss what shape the world should take, an indifferent world arises before us. As an old Portuguese saying goes, O cão ladra e a caravana passa—”The dog barks and the caravan passes.”
The inevitable result of ideological thinking—what a Buddhist might call attachment to view—can be seen easily enough in Iraq today. With tens of thousands dead and no end in sight, our government seems ever more committed to peace through violent means. But as King argued in his 1967 “Christmas Sermon,” “One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.”
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