How to give a humanist response to a crisis in the face of so much violence

19.01.2013 - Tony Robinson

This post is also available in: French

How to give a humanist response to a crisis in the face of so much violence
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In the humanist organisation that I work, World without Wars and Violence, it frequently becomes necessary to take a stand on a particular situation that’s happening in the world.

In these days, of course, barely a week goes by without some new outrage happening in some part of the world, and that’s just the wars and armed conflicts.  If we were to include the economic, moral, religious, sexual and psychological outrages, it would require us to respond every second.

Situations that make the global news are, by their very nature, the most violent because the world’s media only pays attention to reporting the bad things in life in their extremes (and, of course, what the celebrities are doing today).  In this situation, giving a position can only really be about denouncing the violence, calling for disarmament, promoting reconciliation, calling for social justice, etc, etc.  All of this we do whenever we can.  However we know that it’s already too late to make a difference in that specific place.

Let’s take the most recent example that emerged last week.  Our friends in Mali are facing a terrible situation.  There is armed militia in the North of the country allegedly fighting to impose Sharia Law on the country and there are Tuareg “rebels” who allegedly seek their own independent state.  All of these seem to have emerged heavily armed as a result of the downfall of Gadhafi in Libya.  On the other hand there is a government in Bamako trying not to lose control of the north of the country with the support of France whose uranium interests would be severely under threat were the territory to fall into enemy hands.  The idea that al-Qaeda rebels could control uranium supplies and ferry them to Iran and other Middle East countries puts the fear of God into the US Pentagon.

In this situation, people are dying and it doesn’t matter what we say or do in World without Wars, because people in this conflict will continue to die.  There is a great sense of impotence.

We cannot support France—even if they have the might to defeat their opponents and stop the killing—or the Malian government because they are both partly responsible for this situation.  Any attempt by France to hide behind “defending human rights” as an excuse, and scaring people with the word “Islamist”—which is of course nothing more than a replacement for the word “Communist” that used to justify wars in the last century—is outrageous hypocrisy because otherwise they would have bombed Saudi Arabia with their Mirage fighters instead of selling them to the House of Saud for a fat profit.

Obviously we cannot support the rebels and the so-called Islamist terrorists because no one has the right to take over anything with the use of armed force.

So where does that leave us?

Let’s take another situation in which World without Wars has been formed in order to give a position: Nuclear disarmament.

Our position is clear, we hate nuclear weapons, we want them all dismantled and we want the enriched uranium and plutonium dumped into vats of nuclear waste, and we want those nuclear waste facilities kept under international protection until science finds a way of making radioactive material safe.

In this scenario we engage with other organisations which seek a similar goal: nuclear abolition.  What we are unable to agree on though is the efficiency of our different strategies.  There are those who believe it is naïve to campaign for a Nuclear Weapons Treaty to eliminate weapons, so we should take smaller steps like controlling the testing of nuclear material, or reducing the readiness of the weapons (thousands can be launched within 10 minutes of giving the orders – hardly enough time to make a decision that will destroy the planet).  There is always a conversation in the anti-nuclear world about what tactics to take.  Many activists do what they can according to what they think is the most effective policy and from the best of intentions.

This makes it difficult for us though because we think that the real discussion is not about how to eliminate nuclear weapons; it’s about why the USA insists on being the world’s bully.  If there were a real US intention to disarm there is little doubt that the rest of the world would follow.  Russia, China and now North Korea keep their weapons as an insurance policy against the USA.  France and the UK keep theirs because they still want to feel important in the world having not quite got over the loss of their Empires.  India and Pakistan is a different matter, but enough pressure from the USA, Russia and China would change their opinion.  Without US funding Israeli weapons wouldn’t exist.

So while we are not able to have the debate about what to do about the US military-banking-industrial-media complex there is also a sense of impotence in keep repeating: Abolish Nuclear Weapons Now!

How will the world change?

It will change when the people have the opportunity to wake up.  Until recently the vast majority of the world’s population has been in one of two conditions: 1) “Asleep” – they get out of bed, go to work or college, concentrate on making money (for their bosses), pay their ever growing debts, live the life society expects them to live, retire and die, there is no time for rebellion; or 2) “Surviving” – they have no livelihood, no education, no access to health care, they live in a critical situation where at any time death could befall them, they do what they have to do to survive, there is no time for rebellion.

There is also a third but very rare condition: 3) “Elite” – they have access to money and power, they have no interest in changing anything because the system works for them, they control the system so that there is a correct proportion of people in conditions 1) and 2) so that no one has time for rebellion.

However, what we are seeing in increasing numbers today though is the emergence of a new condition: 4) “New Sensibility” – these are educated idealistic youth who have no job and no hope of finding one but they have an education and they know how to use technology.  Also they have a sensibility that values human life, the environment and diversity of forms.  This is the same group of people who have rebelled in Egypt and in Spain, in Wall Street and in Syntagma Square, in Montreal and in Santiago.

It’s all gone a bit quite with the Occupy movement and the 15M indignados, but the people are still there, because they still can’t find a job, and they are waiting for a sign.

And, in some moment and in some place in the world a signal will be sent.  It will be a very small demonstration effect of how to do something differently.  Already, and through necessity, those in condition 4) are making thousands of experiments everywhere to get out of their dire situation:  economic experiments, organisational forms, educational forms, new technologies, etc.

And in one moment somewhere something new and revolutionary will work.  And this signal will be heard all around the world in minutes and the revolution will happen.

Revolutions don’t necessarily have to be streets filled with blood.  Half the world seemed to collapse with the end of the Soviet Empire, but the streets of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Republics were not running with blood.  There was no apocalypse.

So what is the Humanist Response in the face of so much violence?

First, heed the principle, “Do not oppose a great force, retreat until it weakens and then advance with resolution.”  If your life is at risk, do nothing that puts you further in danger.  If you need to flee, then flee.  Pack your family and move.  If men who will not like you are approaching your town with guns, get out.  If you can’t get out, strictly obey everything they want you to do and give them no reason to mistreat you.  Thankfully for now, this advice is only needed by those in the most extreme situations and our hearts are with those in all armed conflicts in the world.

Secondly, for the rest of us, we have to keep on looking for this signal.  We have to do whatever we can to stay awake, or to increase our state of vigil, and out of solidarity we have to help others to also awaken and join us in our new sensibility.  We have to hold onto what we truly believe in: the value of life and the achievement of peace through the methodology of active nonviolence.

Fortunately the ranks of condition 4) are growing as the economic system collapses faster and faster, so in some moment a critical number will beat the statistical odds and the signal will come.  The only fear is that we find this signal before some crazy bastard gives the signal to launch a nuclear bomb.

Our task is urgent!

Categories: International, Opinions, Peace and Disarmament

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