Friday, April 01, 2011

Intervention in Libya

Just as I'm nearly always unable to watch violent crime shows (whether "reality" or merely fiction), I've been unable to pay attention to most of what is going on in Libya. Violence is abhorrent to me. I cannot stand to watch the newscasts that show bombs being dropped, and so on. Knowing that we -- the US -- had just started a THIRD war just pains me.

And it's not that I'm incapable of violence. Unfortunately, far from it. I am committed to non-violence, but in part because I know the kind of hate that I feel from time to time -- but I don't like it. I won't give you examples, but you can take my word for it.

I am also committed to human freedom, and I empathize with the folks in Libya who have suffered repression for many years. I want them to have something better. No one should have to live in terror. "Give peace, O Lord, in all the world, for only in you can we live in safety" -- this is part of one of the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer that I say almost daily. People should be able to live in peace and safety because we are all children of God.

But, though I empathize with the rebels in Libya, I cannot support the role the US is playing in that conflict. I cannot support it because, though we might regard Gadhafi and his forces as our enemies, we Christians are called to love our enemies -- even (and perhaps especially) those who would like to kill us and may be actively trying to do so at some given moment. Think Jesus here. He didn't hate (wow!) those who were beating him, spitting on him, insulting him, pounding nails through his feet and forearms, cramming a ring of thorns down on his scalp, and so on. And it wasn't just that he was the Son of God -- a ploy we sometimes use to try to keep Jesus sanitary and out of the way of any real temptation. Nope. He faced temptations with exactly the same tools available to me and to you -- prayer, fasting, scripture. He was tempted in every way just as we are. Which means he was tempted to hate those who hated him and insulted him and insulted his God!!!! Tempted; but he didn't do it. He didn't hate them. We cannot hate our enemies. We must love them. Even Gadhafi.

But, so it has been argued, if we didn't intervene, Gadhafi's forces would have overrun the rebels and made a quick end to the effort to secure their human rights. We could not just "do nothing." Intervention was the right thing to do.

This is the stereotypical argument against non-violence. Non-violence is simply equated with "doing nothing" or non-intervention, and those two (alleged) opposites are juxtaposed as if they were the only two possibilities.

That's simply a lack of imagination, at best, and at worst it is a lust for and trust in violence. Is it true that violence breeds violence? Doesn't history teach us that much? Can we really count on violence to "change the world" (as if creating more violence would really constitute a "change")? The Dr. Phil question needs to be asked here: "So, how's that working out for you?" So long as we keep our historical blinders on, we might think it's working out pretty well.

"Pacifism" does not equal "passivism." Non-violence is not non-intervention. It does, however, require more imagination and infinitely more courage. Could we have sent blue-helmeted UN troops into Libya? Could we have encouraged the rebels to follow the example of Egypt and renounce violence?

"But that wouldn't work!" I can hear the protests already. And they may well be correct. It may not, in this particular case, work. There is equally no guarantee that the violence will "work." So violence is what nations do in place of trusting God.

But it's not what Christians are called to do. We are not called to "solutions that work," or that we think we can secure under our own power. We're not called to make things work. We're called to be faithful to the one we call "Lord" -- the very one who loved his enemies.

Simon Barrow of the Ekklesia Project said a similar thing in this article. He has imagination. And courage. And he points out that it is a lie that violence was our only option. Good stuff.


Gary said...

But Chip... Jesus knew he had to die for us and model innocence for us so that we could be just as we are and rely on his innocence rather than our own. I don't know how he would have acted if not for that one excuse for his apparent pacifism, but emulating that would be salvation by wor--

Sorry! I think I was channeling Martin Luther there.

What I meant to say was that I agree. People do equate pacifism with passivism (a live-and-let-die attitude masquerading as a live-and-let-live attitude), and it is a lack of imagination. I jokingly say that the reason pacifism doesn't work often is that there aren't enough pacifists!

And war works for only about 50% of the parties that utilize that option, anyway. Zero-sum games don't have high probabilities of success, either. I wish people would get that.

chip said...

heh heh -- I almost put in a response to that objection, but decided making a complete Christological argument was just too much for that post or for this evening.

But in conclusion (just jumping to the conclusion rather than trying to make a complete argument): while I believe that Jesus believed his death would be redemptive, it was not MERELY a death to give us a ticket to heaven. "Redemption" means a lot more than that. And to imply that it was only the "ticket to heaven" thing is to erase the humanity of Jesus, and indeed to make the "love" of his persecutors and crucifiers a mere charade.

Michael said...

Well said brother. It is important for us to remember that our exclusive allegiance should be to the Kingdom of God. This means that we say "no" to the things that Jesus himself refused (namely here that would be violence, revenge, and hatred).

This is certainly difficult, requires immense imagination and faith in God, and could result in our suffering and death.

This is why we must be people of the resurrection.

There is a better way. The way of peace. The way of Christ. Thank you for the reminder.

Beach Bum said...

...though I empathize with the rebels in Libya, I cannot support the role the US is playing in that conflict.

Though I am a veteran I agree with your post on several levels. For me personally war should always be the absolute last resort and even then only in self defence. That the United States only seems able to influence actions by going to war say a lot about how our superpower status is an illusion.

For a country that has done much good in the world I despair that so many Americans look at war now as some sort of video game/reality show. And that other true sources of power like the Peace Corp and foreign aid and education efforts are looked upon as weak.

As for Libya I have to echo the question as to why do we interfer there and not in other countries with oppressive dictators? In short I believe we have no business messing in the civil wars of other countries.

katie said...

I'm so glad you posted this. While I abhor the thought of sitting by and watching while Qaddafi kills his own people, I can't help but wonder how some of the world's arguably most intelligent minds that are working on this problem couldn't come up with anything more creative than an escalation of violence. There has got to be another choice.