Peace and nonviolence aren’t impossible responses to terrorism. Not only aren’t they impossible, they are the only responses that can change the war games everyone’s playing. The thing is, it takes courage to stand up to terrorists without bombs, guns, or fisticuffs. Few humans have real courage. People with guns are not heroes or brave. The only real brave people in the world are those who face opposition without weapons of any kind.
People need to believe that nonviolent responses to violent attacks are impossible in order to maintain the ordered world view they’ve invested their whole lives in. Even I might believe that the only way to deal successfully with bullies is with retaliatory force if there weren’t precedent for nonviolence to remove an occupying force from an entire continent. Gandhi isn’t just a myth, my friends. He’s real. What he accomplished is real and proves the principle I believe in. I believe in it not because it’s a great idea but because Gandhi proved it was a viable one.
More than that, I have practiced it in my own life and found it to be successful.
I have told the story here before a long time ago. For the sake of the recent terrorist attacks against Lebanon, Paris, and Baghdad, I will repeat it.
In junior high school I was the recipient of spit and fire crackers lodged at my locker, while I was at my locker. I was the beneficiary of rocks and bottles being thrown at me from passing cars. Not to mention obscenities being shouted at me gleefully. High school was no different. But in high school I found myself tired of being bullied. One particular punk girl decided that my death rock flavor was deeply offensive and threatened to beat me up regularly. I’d done nothing that I knew of to deserve her ire or threats of violence. If she was nearby and I sat on a bench she would come along and demand that I move or she’d beat me up. The kind of fuckery assholes the world over do to people.
I was scared of her. That’s a fact. So day in and day out I moved when she told me to move and avoided her whenever I could see her coming. I didn’t want to be beat up. No one offered to stand up to her in my stead. Probably all afraid of her as well. But at some point I got really tired of the threats and the constant dealing with her shit. I didn’t wake up brave or different but at some point I’d just had ENOUGH. The next time KAREN approached me where I’d decided to sit down and threatened to beat me up if I didn’t move – I said this, and this is really true though the quote I offer is probably incorrect at this point since it happened 30 years ago now.
“I’m not going to fight you so if you really want to beat the shit out of me, just do it. Do it now because I’m so tired of your threats. I won’t fight you but go ahead and beat me up-” and I stood up and waited for the beating to begin. Maybe I was less scared because I’d had the crap beat out of me by someone who was supposed to love me half a life ago already when I was 7 and lived in fear ever since, whatever, but I fully expected Karen to beat the shit out of me. She didn’t.
Instead, she decided that I was someone to admire and follow around and be friends with and ultimately she’s the reason I got punched in the face by a drunk skinhead.
Do you get the point? Because the point I’m making is, to my thinking, crystal clear.
A nonviolent reaction to bullies is not what bullies want or expect. And also, it takes fucking guts to do it and a wholehearted willingness to get beat up or killed or bombed or whatever the stakes are. Gandhi knew that. Gandhi knew that standing up to the British meant that people would get hurt. They would get killed. But he knew that a nonviolent approach would eventually demoralize the British into retreat because if the people you’re bullying and threatening and hurting don’t retaliate and you keep hurting them you start feeling like the fucking monster you are. You lash out and faced with complete acceptance and non-retaliation the whole fucking game is changed.
Non-violence requires tremendous bravery. I haven’t faced Al Qaeda. I haven’t fought the British empire. But I have faced people who meant me harm without violence. I’ve won some rounds and gotten bloody other rounds. I almost wrote that I’ve never thrown a punch, but that’s not entirely true.
In sixth grade I had the opportunity to get back at my bully of three years while she lay on the ground in a fight with some nemesis or another, a detail lost in time to me. They were fighting in the alley I always walked through to get home. When I saw my bully of three years on the ground and her aggressor egged me on to get a hit in, I kicked her when she was down thinking I’d feel some kind of satisfaction. Instead I felt sick to my stomach and have felt sick to my stomach every time I remember that moment ever since then. That didn’t stop her from bullying me.
What stopped her from bullying me was me not caring any more. This was long before Karen the rich punk and standing up to her with an invitation to beat me up. I just stopped caring about my great grade school nemesis by the time we got to Junior High.
Nonviolence is not without cost. But the cost of retaliation to violence with violence is a never-ending death toll we have to keep tallying every year in the millions. Every nation on earth continues to NOT learn that meeting violence with violence begets more violence in spite of the fact that all data supports this conclusion.
You may say “But if we don’t fight they’ll win” and other untrue gems. You may say “but if no one fights back more people will die” but I will ask you to tally all the people who will die with the way we respond to terrorism now, because that number is already unconscionably high from all borders.
Those people who say peace and love is naive and useless have never offered themselves up to a bully at full physical risk and won.
I’m willing to die standing up peacefully to terrorists. Who will stand with me? If the whole world stood up and refused to retaliate to the violence of terrorism, fewer people overall would die and terrorism would lose vital power.
I’m an atheist who believes in the power of love and peace. So much violence is committed in the name of religion world-wide. Fuck that bullshit. If you can believe in a deity, you can believe in peace and love, in nonviolence. It seems to me that should be your greatest calling card, if it’s not, you might be an extremist or a very immature person.
I’ve been punched in the nose. I’ve been punched in the stomach. I’ve been held up in the air by my hair while being punched in the stomach when I was seven years old. I’ve been attacked on the streets by a mugger. When I was a child experiencing violence I would have done anything in my power not to experience it, but I had no power. As an evolved adult I have so much more power and I use it to disengage from bullies and terrorists. I experience some residue of fear but it’s less important than exercising my power to say FUCK YOU to bullies.
World peace is achievable if everyone universally chooses to stand together across the planet against terrorism, against bigotry, against oppression. There will always be casualties, but the numbers will never end the way we’re doing things now.
Tonight my love especially goes to peace loving Muslims around the world who are being vilified by my nation, by Christians globally, by everyone globally. I’m an atheist but the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard is the morning prayers of Muslims in a neighborhood I stayed in in Herzliya.
I wish love for everyone. Muslims, Christians, Pagans, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists – AND EVERYONE ELSE OF EVERY OTHER FAITH I’VE ALMOST CERTAINLY FORGOTTEN – love to all of you.
Choose the brave path. Choose peace and freedom.