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God’s Dream
Published on Saturday, May 11, 2002 by
God’s Dream
by John Liechty

It is often observed that people are better off leaving the topics of religion and politics alone. As Mark Twain notes: “...In matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.” But it is difficult to resist making a monkey of oneself. For what a year it has been, with people flying airplanes into crowded buildings in the name of religion, and people dropping bombs on one of the poorest countries on earth in the name of politics! A year of young people blowing themselves (and as many fellow human beings as they can take with them) to bits, and of tanks creating chaos and destruction and terror in the name of eliminating chaos and destruction and terror. Some year! When Ariel Sharon is called a man of peace and Iran is said to belong to an axis of evil, you know you’re having a bad one. And you wonder if the Mark Twain quote just cited might not in fact constitute an insult to the monkey.

To speak of peace in this ‘Year of the Monkey’ may seem absurd. Proponents of the “war on terror” appear to regard peace as an irrelevant, annoying, obsolete, and even unpatriotic proposition. “Of course we too want peace,” they say, “but only 50 or 60 years from now when the last vestige of Evil has been bombed off the face of the planet.” Good luck. Let’s hope there’s a planet left by the time you’re through. (Chances seem pretty good there will still be some Evil around.)

The governments marketing this war on terror would like us to believe that it is particularly pure and just. (After all, what could be wrong with fighting terror?) Of course this type of sales pitch has been tried a couple of times before, and the world is still waiting for a pure and just war. What Gandhi said is more credible: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” Alas, in the ‘Year of the Monkey’, the words of George W. Bush receive far more notice than those of Mohandas K. Gandhi, or of Albert Einstein, who wrote: “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved through understanding."

Is government primarily dedicated to promoting peace or to creating obstacles to it? The question isn’t new. President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously observed: “I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.” We need to demand that government be more accountable. If government can demonstrate itself to be at least as good at peace as it is at war, it might get more trust and respect. That said, we must resist the temptation to put the responsibility for peace solely on government. As Jawaharlal Nehru remarked: “Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.” The peace is best that starts at home. “First keep the peace within yourself,” said Thomas a Kempis; “then you can also bring peace to others.”

In the end, we cannot go around calling for peace and expect much to happen. If only it were that simple. “Many men cry Peace! Peace! But they refuse to do the things that make for peace,” says Martin Luther King. What are the things that make for peace? Justice? Freedom? Yes, but how often these become mere words thrown away in the never-ending process of getting even and the lopsided demands of "the national interest". The war on terror, the suicide bombings, Israel’s outrage against Jenin, the attacks on (and by) Hindus, Moslems, and Christians in India? Do they really go anywhere in doing “the things that make for peace”? Or are they just about getting even?

In any case, we are quick to condemn the violence of others, equally quick to justify our own. In the ‘Year of the Monkey’, not a day has gone by in which violence (whether Israeli, Palestinian, American, or Al-Qaedan) has not been justified and glorified by some, even as it is being condemned and scorned by others. If we ever make it to the ‘Year of the Human Being’, it will be because we have realized that an honest war on injustice will do more to fight terror than a billion tons of bombs or a million years of getting even. Desmond Tutu recently referred to peace as “God’s dream”. Why must we insist on living in our own nightmares?

John Liechty teaches in Muscat, Oman. E-mail:


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