LOVING YOUR ENEMIES IN A WORLD OF TERRORISM
"If you want to destroy your enemies, make friends of them." Do you know who said that?
It sounds like something Jesus might have said.
Actually it was Abraham Lincoln trying to reconcile a whole country at war with one another Ė killing one another. But he could well have been thinking of Jesusí words: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
Yes, but didnít Jesus go on to say that was the way of divine love Ė of Godís love?
He did. But at the same time it is a love Jesus tells us we are to try to emulate Ė a love that goes beyond only loving our own and those who seem to care for us in return?
A beautiful thought, no doubt. Lincolnís was a nice idea too. But, letís face it, thatís not the real world we live in today.
I donít mean it as a beautiful thought. I think it should be the basis of our foreign policy.
Sure Ė and cats and dogs should be nice to one another. Look, weíve at least made some efforts to be nice to the rest of the world. But what do you do after a bunch of fanatics hijack planes and fly them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Towers, killing thousands of innocent civilians? Or when suicide bombers and terrorists kill and terrorize in other parts of the world? Or how do you deal with Iran and the crazy leader of North Korea or, for that matter, Hezbollah? You can imagine what would happen if you turned the cheek on them. Weíd get the other side of our face blown off.
No one said loving enemies is easy.
Itís probably impossible or at least it is unrealistic.
What do you think does work? More violence seems to be leading to greater violence just as Martin Luther King said it would. There seems to be a greater and growing sense on both sides that "we are right and they are wrong and evil".
But we are trying to defend ourselves. People have a right to self-defense, especially to save the lives of innocent people. We are not being vengeful.
Revenge is pretty hard to avoid when friends and family members are being killed in battles between good and evil. It may be what makes it possible for both sides to kill children and women and old folks and say they only did it because they had to.
It certainly makes it harder to love oneís enemies. Clearly they donít love us. That why it is always going to be just a beautiful thought.
Iíll tell you again itís not just a beautiful thought. I mean it as a hardheaded, realistic geopolitical thought Ė an essential principle of international relations. In order to understand other people Ė what their fears and hopes are, what they think about life and death and family and music and honor and shame and their religions and prejudices Ė you have to be sympathetic with them.
Itís not easy to be sympathetic with terrorists who say they want to kill you or at least drive you out of that part of the world. What about Israel?
Nobody said it would be simple or easy. Among other things it requires imagination Ė to be able to imagine the lives and feelings of others. They, too, can cry. They, too, have children, get sick and have tooth aches. They can be afraid. They, too, are mortal. Indeed, fear as well as frustration and anger can be part of their motivations.
What makes you think such therapy on them is going to work?
Itís not a matter of therapy for them. If anything, it is therapy for us Ė enabling us better to see who we are dealing with and to be wiser in doing so.
It still sounds unrealistic - even kind of airy-fairy Ė in the real world of guns, bombs and death.
On the other hand, you can argue that it is hoping that more guns, bombs and death are the solution that looks to be unrealistic in our world today. Iím not saying that loving our enemies can be the whole story, but it can be essential to better stories about the possibilities of reconciliation and more peaceful living. Seeking to love others will keep us from treating enemies as just evil, freedom-hating foreigners whom we canít understand. One can maintain that this is wisdom as opposed simply to being smart. Wisdom is being smart together with compassion and care for others. Too many mistakes have come from failing to do this and misunderstanding others in such a way as to misunderstand their motives, making it impossible really to meet them. It can also blind us to seeing ourselves in their eyes and seeing some of our own mixed motivations. Such blindness makes it a lot harder to be realistic.
It still sounds very hard.
How far did it get Lincoln?
I think it may have helped.
Frederick Borsch (August 2006)
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