Not Even Gods Of War Can Kill Ideas With Bombs

Human beings understand that an idea can have formidable perseverance, when they agree with it. In fact, so fervently do people believe this, falling on one’s sword to protect the idea is considered an honorable exit from this terrestrial sphere. So, it goes without saying that human beings understand an idea can survive violence, even death — but again, only if they agree with the idea.

But, when human beings disagree with an idea, they believe there is a different formula, one in which ideas are terminated with violence and death. Such is the case when we drop bombs in the Middle East in hopes of killing an idea. But what we should understand is that it doesn’t matter if we think this idea is a bad idea, the people who believe it do so just as strongly as any idea you have ever held dear. And the only way you believe “their” idea can be killed with violence is to see the world as good vs. evil, a vacuum void of nuance — but we know this is not how the world works.

photo by Jaqian via Flickr

photo by Jaqian via Flickr

About a month ago on Facebook I said, “When was the last time you faced a border check crossing between states? I now rest my case on asshole governors who think they can deny Syrian refugees.” To be fair, this wasn’t exactly a judicious statement. While I still stand by it, maybe my use of words could have been somewhat less antagonizing. The resulting commentary degenerated into a xenophobic quagmire for which nobody escaped unscathed. What started as a statement about Syrian refugees turned into an “us” against “them” tirade, setting the stage for what some see as an ultimate knock out drag out fight of good against evil, in this case, evil being anyone deemed as an “other” by the self-appointed “good.”

Feelin’ like it’s all over, feelin’ like there’s no love
Feelin’ like it’s not easy, breathin’ life in the dust

from “Gods of War” by Def Leppard

Somehow in this “discussion” of Syrian refugees, things like “They are born and bred to HATE us” and “you’re crazy if you don’t think the refugees are ‘these people'” are passed off as accepted fact, with no regard for the agency of fellow human beings, never mind the lack of respect and patent indifference for humanity. This is someone talking about people they know nothing about, pretending they are somehow synonymous to ISIS, and doing so with the broadest possible brush, all while gleefully proclaiming disagreement with this assessment is crazy. Or as they put it, “The blinders you wear are going to be the downfall of this country.” Because everyone knows a thriving and sustainable civilization is built upon a foundation of intolerence, racism, tribalism, and xenophobia.

“What our nation needs right now, is to realize that while we face a terror danger we also face a different sort of political danger. And that is the danger that democracies find themselves susceptible to when unscrupulous leaders try to turn us upon each other,” said presidential candidate Martin O’Malley during tonight’s Democratic debate.

We don’t defend liberty, freedom, and the values of our great democracy, by modifying those values when we find ourselves facing an external threat. Our values are non-negotiable. We must not become complacent, and we shall not allow fear to compromise our values. We will not suspend the liberties and freedoms of any person out of anxiety-fueled irrational thought. And we will not justify unjustifiable acts of fear-based vigilantism.

During the Facebook “debate,” a fellow person of reason chimed in by saying “You fight hate with love, not with more hate.” Well, you can probably just imagine the kind of responses this elicited from the theological “good vs. evil” crowd.

What does it mean to fight hate with love? Somebody who dismisses this notion in favor of more bombs might assume this means walking up to an ISIS fighter and giving them a big bear hug. That’s just about as much respect as they can muster for the idea that we might actually be able to make a better world if we step back and rethink millennia of failed strategy. Or, as they might put it, “See, now you’ve gone into the weeds,” as if to say rejecting information is how one reaches an informed mind.

Let’s have a thought exercise. Instead of responding to 9/11 and the threat of Islamic extremism with warfare, what if we had taken a moment to reflect. What if we had stopped to think and map out where we might be after 10 or 15 years of warfare. What if we had decided to do something humanity has never done before. What if we had decided this time we were getting out of the revenge business, investing in a new business model, one that actually addresses the problems instead of the symptoms.

With that in mind, what if instead of spending $4 trillion on failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that money was used to do something positive in the Middle East. What if instead of dropping bombs, we built roads and schools and other infrastructure that would spawn economic growth and opportunity. What if instead of inspiring the terrorists of tomorrow, we inspired the thinkers of tomorrow.

When we walk into silence, when we shadow the sun
When we surrender to violence, then the damage is done
Put away that gun

from “Gods Of War” by Def Leppard

These ideas, what it means to fight hate with love, was part of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with that fellow person of reason. Then last night, as I was watching The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, his first guest, the great Mandy Patinkin, enthusiastically and passionately said:

It hasn’t worked. It hasn’t worked, this violence, an eye for an eye. — We have to come up with a new paradigm. — And what is that new paradigm if war isn’t working? You spend four trillion dollars on this war. What is being spent on the marginalized people in humanity? All of these young Muslim, these wonderful young Muslim men and women, that have no education, no opportunity, no good schooling. And so what do they do? They look for someone else who’s saying, “We’ll give you a better life.” Why aren’t we taking that money that’s used for bombs and making schools and hospitals and homes and opportunity? Why?

And I’m going “Holy shit, that is almost exactly what I said a few weeks ago!”

Host Stephen Colbert pointed out that there will be people who say we should instead spend that money here to fix our own roads, bridges, schools, and taking care of our own people. But, that’s a hollow response because some of the same people who would respond this way would never actually allocate $4 trillion to those things. First, they believe the wars were necessary, hence, the money would always have been spent on war. Second, even if the wars never happened, those same people would never argue in favor of spending millions, let alone billions or trillions on infrastructure. In other words, its hollow and shallow to argue from a position for which one never actually intends to hold claim to. Or to put it yet another way, one cannot credibly say $4 trillion would be better spent on infrastructure in the United States instead of the Middle East if one never actually intends for it to be spent on anything other than war.

I know another pushback to spending $4 trillion on positive outcomes in the Middle East instead of bombs is that it would not change the minds of existing jihadists. No, it wouldn’t, but even if we thought war was going to work, we already signed up for the long game. You didn’t actually think we would defeat radical Islam in a few days, weeks, months or even years, did you? Why should we expect a peaceful tactic to take any less time? We will never defeat ideological radicalism, whatever form it takes, by dropping bombs. But, if you can capture the hearts and minds of those not yet radicalized, you might just have a chance to bend the arc of history.

After fourteen years of war against an idea, what do we have to show for it? Are we on the verge of defeating and finally killing the idea we have been fighting against? If you are able to answer that honestly, then I have another question begging for an honest answer:

We’re fightin’ for the gods of war but what the hell we fightin’ for?

from “Gods of War” by Def Leppard

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