Friday, August 30, 2013

Syria, King, and Violence

Listening to the drumbeat of war...or of something war-esque...I find myself struggling to see the point of it.

Syria, after all, is already a proxy war, as the forces of politicized Islam line up to assail one another.  It's not a manifestation of the "Arab Spring," in which good people of troubled conscience finally rose up against their oppressive despot.  That "Spring" was always something of a Western fantasy, an illusion masking a more complex and troubling reality.

Syria is now a sprawling, inchoate mess, in which there is no apparent side befitting the support of a republic.  Unlike the horrors in Bosnia, in which the intervention of the United States made a significant difference, it does not threaten to destabilize a region.  Syria is coming apart because the region is inherently unstable.  As the last of the standing secular Baathist regimes, it represents a worldview that is struggling for viability.

So they've gassed a town, which is a horror, although why several hundred dead from sarin is more of a horror than over 100,000 dead from shelling/shooting/beheading eludes me.  We must act, we say.  Military action is justified and inevitable, we say, although the "we" here seems paradoxically limited to folks on the far left and far-right neoconservatives.  The center of America...the sane sick of war and the lie of violence.

The most peculiar thing for me, however, has been the juxtaposition of our seemingly inescapable march to violent intervention with the celebration of the March on Washington this week.  Here you have an administration celebrating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy.  Liberals lined up, speaking purple prose about justice and freedom and how we've not gotten there yet, but we're going to try.  And at the same time, some those very same human beings were preparing to throw a few Tomahawks into the bloody mess that is Syria.

What seemed missing there, honestly, was a recognition that Dr. King wasn't just fired up about racial injustice.  He also cared deeply and spoke...sorry, PREACHED...ferociously about the pointlessness of war and violence.

Here's an entirely representative quote:
And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace.  Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace.  What is the problem?  They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal.  We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.  All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.  "A Christmas Sermon" December 24, 1967
This was not a small or marginal part of his belief system.  King was deeply committed to the whole ethic of God's Kingdom.  The equality parts?  Absolutely.  But the radical nonviolence as well.

Honoring him while preparing for a self-evidently pointless act of violence is just plain odd.