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The San Francisco Chronicle

Say No to War in Afghanistan and Pakistan

The escalation of war in Afghanistan may be only a stalking horse for an even larger war in Pakistan as the United States seeks to secure the nukes there that might fall into the hands of terrorists. These newly proposed wars are only the Obama phase of what is likely to be an endless 21st-century crusade called "the war on terrorism."

Yet what we justifiably fear - terrorists acquiring a nuclear weapon and detonating it in the United States - cannot be prevented by the United States imposing itself on one country after another in the Middle East or elsewhere. A more plausible strategy is to address the grievances and problems that lead people to want to strike out against the West in general, and the United States in particular.

The Western impact on traditional societies often has been destructive. While helping to develop a small middle class, the penetration of American corporations, the Western global media and the capitalist marketplace often increase the poverty and destitution of the majority, result in phony elections that discredit the very notion of democracy (to wit, the most recent and globally discredited presidential election in Afghanistan), and are perceived as fostering an ethos of individualism, materialism and selfishness. People around the world watch in horror as Western capitalist values permeate their society and play a major role in undermining or destroying the religions and forms of cultural, communal solidarity, within which people enjoyed a sense of higher purpose and brought meaning to their lives.

Westerners correctly note that many of those traditional societies have had a strong downside: They are based on authoritarian and patriarchal practices that are themselves oppressive. But the way to challenge those effectively would be to support the development of the kind of spiritual and religious renewal that deepens one's sense of awe and wonder at the universe, and increases sensitivity to the needs of the environment, educates girls, empowers women, validates individual freedom within (not counterposed to) commitment to a community, and affirms the humanity of others in different spiritual and religious traditions.

The extremes of materialism and ultra-individualism that typically accompany the capitalist marketplace have demonstrable consequences: the weakening of family ties; the prevalence of pornography and the cheapening of sex into yet another commodity for sale and manipulation in the competitive marketplace; the elimination of an economic safety net; the obliteration of spiritual consciousness in favor of the accumulation of money and power; and the pursuit of "progress," which translates into endless exploitation and degradation of the environment of planet Earth.

It's time to abandon the strategy of global domination (military, economic or cultural) and seek homeland security through an ethos of generosity and genuine caring for the well-being of everyone on the planet and of the planet itself.

First step: When President Obama comes to San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel on Tuesday, tell him to just say "no" to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and instead launch a domestic and global Marshall Plan with the G-20 countries, each one dedicating 1 to 2 percent of its gross domestic product each year for the next 20 years, to once and for all end global and domestic poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care, and to save the global environment. This is what the Bible means when it instructs us: I have set before you life and death - choose life!

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Michael Lerner

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine: a bimonthly Jewish and Interfaith Journal of Politics, Culture and Society. He is chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives, author of 11 books including Healing Israel/Palestine: A Path to Peace and Reconciliation, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco.

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