Yearning to make a difference on the brink of war
LAKEWOOD, OHIO — I am uneasy these days, uneasy about my support of terrorism. And I do support terrorism, even as I protest our impending aggression against Iraq.
We all support terrorism, with complacency, with silence when others are wronged on our behalf, with all-American lifestyles. I recently saw a bumper sticker that read, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."
I am trying to pay attention, but the effort necessary to sustain outrage flags, and I continue to live my easy life, day in, day out, though uneasily. I'm anxious about my profligate use of fossil fuel and nagged by suspicions of how my choices connect to our complicated relationship with the nations of the Middle East. I drive an inexpensive car that gets impressive gas mileage, but if I were truly committed I'd endure the inconvenience of public transportation. I feel guilty every time I turn up the thermostat, but I live in an old house, and this long winter is cold. I'm keenly aware of the many, close by and around the world, who are cold or hungry, and the many who spend the greater part of their day gathering fuel and hauling water - people who have no spare time or energy to waste thinking about how they're spending their time and energy. Turning down my thermostat will not help them. My awareness changes only me, and I recognize my uneasiness for the luxury it is.
I'm uneasy with the sound-bite label: "The War on Terrorism." Its imprecision begs for content, its redundancy renders it meaningless. All war is terrorism. Social injustice, gender inequality, and the lopsided distribution of resources are all forms of terrorism. Sunday morning pulpits preach that the axis of evil is not Iran, Iraq, and North Korea - it's discrimination, materialism, and militarism. Who is listening? How can we not know this if we're at all connected to our humanness and the humanness of those we revile? How does the sacred in us not see the sacred in the women of Afghanistan, the children of Iraq, even in those who would harm us?
I hear my mother's calm voice saying, "Two wrongs don't make a right." And we are deep into the territory of two times two times untold wrongs. My strategy would be to disarm those we label as "evil" or "terrorists" not with explosives but with greater kindness and the fulfillment of basic human needs. Violent movements are fomented by economic deprivation and a desperation to be heard. An educated, well-fed, and secure citizenry makes poor recruiting grounds for extremists.
My choice would have been to "bomb" Afghanistan only with food, clothes, warm blankets, and building and school supplies. As commander in chief, I would have mounted an invading force of teachers and nurses, carpenters, and engineers. If asked, I'd recommend the same for Iraq, for North Korea, for any place where people are hurting. And then I would beg their forgiveness for the easy life I lead.
But this, I'm quite sure I would be told, is too simplistic. "Love your enemy; do good to them that hate you; do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Sunday school stuff, dismissed in the purported real world. The ways of peace, apparently, look good only on gilt-edged parchment. The message we get from our government and greater society is that it's simply not practical to live our faith, if indeed we have any faith at all.
It's all too big for me. I fan my tiny flame of outrage in the security of my home. I e-mail legislators, endorse antiwar petitions, and give food and clothing to the homeless. I collect coins in my kitchen piggy bank for the local hunger center, dropping in a few before each meal, knowing it's not really about the money but about staying awake to the abundance I enjoy.
Again, my awareness changes only me, and at the end of the day, I go to bed well-fed and warm. And increasingly uneasy.
• Jan C. Snow writes, teaches, and turns up her thermostat in Lakewood, Ohio.