Nonviolence works

A Palestinian man examines the damage to his destroyed house following an Israeli airstrike north of Gaza City July 11. A Catholic priest in Gaza said Israeli missile attacks are wide-ranging and that there is no safe zone. (CNS photo/Mohammed Saber, EPA )

“When are we going to learn?” It seems like I am asking myself that question more and more these days. Often I say it out loud when I am catching the news about Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Gaza/Israel. But it also grabs me when I see the children fleeing violence in Central America only to face the prospect of being returned or when I hear about rape as a tool of conflict or read about the death of yet another inner city youth. It’s my lament, I suppose. Kind of like saying, “How long, O, Lord!”

Violence doesn’t work. It only leads to more heartache and pain, more hate and enmity. More killing.

And I’m also talking about the structural violence of oppression, occupation and poverty. Unless we recognize these as violent and name them so, we will continue to skew our perspectives and blame the victims.

Overwhelming evidence that violence doesn’t work surrounds us. Yet, it doesn’t seem to sink in. When ARE we going to learn?

We’re caught up in what Walter Wink called the myth of redemptive violence. Too often we think, act and believe that violence will solve things – that it will save us. We are taught this at an early age. It’s embedded in our entertainment. It permeates political systems and eats up our tax dollars. It defines national or sectarian pride, determines who is patriotic. It’s what deserves the headlines. It sells. Violence is often our first response, perhaps even personally.

When are we going to learn? About nonviolence. What it is and what it isn’t. How to use the power of nonviolence that’s available to us. When are we going to really understand the gospel message of the nonviolent Jesus?

Most of us probably think we have only two choices in the face of conflict or violence: give in (flight) or react in kind (fight). Nonviolence is often equated with passivity (flight). But it truly is an active third way, based on respect for both ourselves and others. It recognizes that we are all interconnected.

I was astounded when I first read Wink’s analysis of the “turn the other cheek” passage in Matthew’s gospel. So often this has been preached to encourage submissiveness. Why hadn’t we been taught that it is not about passivity but assertive nonviolent resistance? The third way.

We’ll have to search around to learn about nonviolence since we’re awash in cultures of violence. Michael Nagler, founder of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, recently published The Nonviolent Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action. It is a good place to start. I also recommend his earlier book The Search for a Nonviolent Future. He gives examples of how nonviolence has been used and has an interesting chapter (“Work” vs. work) addressing the contention that violence works and nonviolence doesn’t. Other good sources online are Pace e Bene (Nonviolent Change 101) and the Albert Einstein Institution, founded by Gene Sharp, which focuses on advancing the use of strategic nonviolent actions in conflicts around the world. The materials are translated into over 30 languages.

Nonviolence is being practiced around the world, even in the most desperate situations. We won’t hear about it unless we look for alternate news sources or surf the web. Mainstream media, at least here in the U.S., seem to be addicted to violence. They do not recognize structural violence, skip over root causes. Too often they become cheerleaders for dominati on and violent solutions.

When I was in Palestine/Israel on an Interfaith Peace Builders Delegation in 2012, we met with over 15 Palestinian/Israeli organizations that are involved in nonviolent means for creating a different future. I’ve been thinking about them and their efforts these days. About the people of Al-Tuwani, the teens in Hebron, the Nassar family at Tent of Nations near Bethlehem and the women near the border with Gaza who partnered with women in Gaza to form Other Voice, among others.

People struggling nonviolently all over the world need support. The knowledge and application of nonviolence needs to be developed. We need to learn from each other.

And just think of what could happen if all those resources being spent on armaments and war would be redirected toward nonviolent means!

It takes courage to imagine a different future, to name violence in all its dimensions, to examine root causes, to break the cycle of violence and to nonviolently create a future based on justice.

Here are some people who inspired me last week by their witness of nonviolence:

When are we going to learn? How about today… and tomorrow!

[Jan Cebula, OSF, is liaison to women religious in the United States for Global Sisters Report.]