The Many Shapes of Violence

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Many forms of violence can shatter our world.

Sometimes violence comes in the form of a sleek airliner murdering thousands in a moment.

Sometimes violence comes in the form of people dying from AIDS because the global pharmaceutical companies charge so much for the drugs to alleviate the illness.

Sometime violence comes in the form of death from polluted and disease-ridden water — drunk because the World Bank has insisted that public water supplies be sold to private companies, and the corporations charge far more for the water than the poor can afford. (This practice is sanitized by calling it "user fees.")

Sometimes violence comes in the form of children forced into sweatshops and early deaths.

Sometimes violence comes in the form of a disastrous typhoon spawned by the heating of our planet by too much CO-2: a global scorching rooted in making money from still more investments in coal and oil, rather than investing in new forms of energy that can heal the planet as well as meet human needs.

Sometimes violence comes in the form of a small community of indigenous peoples wiped out by the burning of a tropical forest — to clear the land for a few years of raising cattle for hamburgers.

Sometimes violence comes in the form of the suicide of an "affluent" lawyer who is under such opressure to work a 70-hour week that he has forgotten his need to love and be loved, his need to Be as well as to Do.

Such a long chain of seemingly innocuous decisions, from the World Bank's investments or the World Trade Organization's regulations or the corporation's "down-sizing" to the deaths that result.

How hard to trace the chain that makes it violence!

The violence of death in the World Trade Center was hatched by secret cabals that hope to force political change down the throats of a horrified human race.

The other forms of violence are carried out by small groups that are not overseen by any democratic process — groups that use investment and debt and regulations to force disastrous economic change down the throats of terrified poor nations.

The alternative to all these forms of violence is creating a planetary community.

There is no excuse for terrorism, and terrorists must stand trial and be punished.

And there is no excuse for our letting fester on our planet the pools of rage and despair that breed terrorism. These pools must be drained, the despair must be ended.

Only a sense of planetary community can drain those pools. That sense of planetary community will be undermined, not supported, if additional violence in the form of war against whole nations or communities is used to attack terrorists.

In the harshest conceivable way, the United States learned this month that we are truly part of the planetary community — vulnerable as much of the world has been for centuries or millennia.

Even the greatest oceans do not shield us; even the mightiest buildings do not shield us; even the wealthiest balance sheets and the most powerful weapons do not shield us.

Indeed, these indices of wealth and power may help create the enormous gaps in income, power, and consciousness that make up the pools of rage and desperation.

Now we must learn to become more fully part of the planetary community not only in our vulnerability but also in our compassion and connection.

For the planet is in fact one interwoven web of life. We MUST love our neighbors as we do ourselves, because our neighbors and our selves are interwoven. If I despise my neighbor, hatred will recoil upon me.

The world where we all recognize our vulnerability can become a world where all communities feel responsible to all other communities.

When we choose to shape that world, we in America will ask ourselves — What has our wealth and power contributed to creating those pools of rage and desperation, and to isolating us from the people who live in them? What might we do to dry up those pools?

We call on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to —
Cancel the crushing debts of the nations that the policies of the Bank and IMF themselves have impoverished and forced into debt;

Abandon the policy of "structural adjustment," which through privatization and high prices for the necessities of life embodies the destruction of public services and the idolatry of Profit;

Make workers' freedom to organize unions and everyone's freedom to organize on behalf of the endangered earth the conditions of all grants and loans;

Stop investing in the mining and drilling for fossil fuels that, burning, scorch our planet;

Stop insisting on "user fees" for the poor to purchase health care, water, schools they cannot afford, thus stoking the AIDS epidemic and other illnesses.

Open their own meetings and deliberations to public scrutiny and democratic control.

We urge that the President withdraw and the Congress reject the short-circuiting of democratic legislative oversight called "Fast Track";

We urge that before our government makes war against the innocents of any country, we pause for a month of inner self-examination at the grass roots of our society: How can we work justice, not vengeance, for the attack on our community? How can we drain the festering pools of pain, rage and desperation, that give rise to the plague of terrorism?

We urge that churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, lead us into meetings, prayer, reflection on these questions.

So that these transformations be achieved, we covenant together — with each other and with the spirit of all life — to bear witness and work, to plan and to pray, for an end to the global structures of arrogant power and their bloody shadow-images in the structures of arrogant terrorism — for the healing of our peoples and our planet.