Especially after Thursday’s discussion on Just War and whether it is actually a sustainable practice, I want to commit myself to understanding nonviolence better and articulating it both through my commitments to Judaism and Queer theory. It is important, in my opinion, to think about pacifism in a narrative way as something that was a process of becoming rather than something that should specifically be abstractly articulated. As someone who is dedicated to living a hermeneutic of liberation, we must always be in the process of putting theoretical knowledge into praxis. To know is to practice.
My first articulations of pacifism, or more specifically, nonviolence began on March 20, 2003. To be sure, my father always advocated against war and believed that war was always justified in terms of ideal noble qualities when in reality, all war is done in self interest of the nation. My roots of nonviolence also lay in my mother, who taught me the importance of dialogical relationships, although she never articulated it as a philosophy. Rather, it was a way that she did life: living a life for others and that our responsibility is first and foremost for the others.
My nonviolent tendencies began as a critic of Operation Iraqi Freedom and protesting it. I felt that it was important to protest it, even though in hindsight, it was ineffective against ending the war. At the very least, it was important because it was my first overt act of nonviolence and it helped my peers to think politically. In that sense, the protest fostered a sense of critical conscious. While ineffective, it is always important to protest against the unjust actions of the nation state. Our political acts are not only about effectiveness but also about witness. Citizens of the United States always have a duty and responsibility to witness and testify to the the atrocities and injustices our nation commits. That is how I felt when I walked out of High School to protest, that is how I still feel.
There is some sense of patriotism I feel for my country. Perhaps the better word is obligation. My patriotism does not come from a sense of living in the best country in the world or that the United States is somehow God’s covenant people. There is a real sense of hypocrisy that I see in our nation and I have always felt that way. God’s country is not a country that commits significant amounts of human rights abuses annually, commits acts of terrorism in the name of United States imperialism, is still institutionally and culturally racist, heterosexist, patriarchal and classist. While it is true that no country is perfect, it also means that the United States is no exception (I hope this pun is understood).
On March 20, 2003 I walked out of High School. We were told beforehand that if we walked out of school, we would be considered truant and our parents would be called. We could also face arrest for getting caught outside of school. I am not sure how I felt about all of these punishments at the time. Obviously, I protested meaning that I either did not take such punishments seriously, or if I did, they were not serious enough to warrant concern.
Protesting, I remember, was a liberating experience because it was one of the first times where I made my own decision. To be sure, at the time I was not observant of any religious tradition whatsoever. It was merely my conscience that compelled me to reject Operation Iraqi Freedom. My inclination was that it was both an immoral and illegal thing to do.
I knew our reasoning for fighting in Iraq. There were, in fact multiple reasons. At this point, I can only recount our rationale for going to war and the justifications of it as a just war. So at this point, I was thinking merely in terms of jus ad bellum. President Bush noted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations had refuted this, although, there was lots of speculation that Siddam Hussein was hiding these weapons. My conscience told me that this was not a good enough reason. In fact, most just war advocates would agree that preemptive strike alway precludes the possibility of just war. Moreover, I thought it hypocritical that the United States, a nation that dropped two Atomic Bombs during World War II should be concerned about such an issue. If anything, it was an issue of national security, not an issue of justice.
Furthermore, we also reasoned that Hussein was fostering terrorist organizations in our country. Again, I felt it hypocritical that our nation, an imperial power, talk of Iraq harboring terrorists. We have maintained such a huge presence since World War II around the globe that it is absurd that we call anyone terrorists. Our intention was also a critique against its human rights abuses. The United States has frequently done this.
Moreover, the attack was illegal. The United States disregarded the United Nations charter, making the invasion illegal. The United States and the United Kingdom had no authority whatsoever to commit those attacks. At the time of the invasion, I would not have called myself an absolute pacifist. But I recognized that the war was unjust by every standard of jus ad bellum. We should not have gone there in the first place.
This was enforced by our protest itself. We walked to Lyndale Avenue and 50th Street to protest. By in large, our protest was met by opposition. There were many people who screamed from cars that we were un-American for our criticism of the war. Moreover, a few people who walked by us spit at us and told us that we simply wanted to protest the war in order to be cool. 10 miles of walking and heavy rain said otherwise.
The anger that we were met astounded me but considering the attacks of September 11, 2001, I was not surprised. I remember my dad saying about Operation Iraqi Freedom that it was quite obvious there was no connection between al Queda, an Islamicist group and Siddam Hussein, part of the Ba’ath Party, which was a proponent of Arab Socialism. My dad’s statement was that after 9/11, Americans wanted revenge and we were so angry as a whole that “we would have gone to war with Canada.” It gave me the very real sense and horror that anger could lead to violence and murder. That people did not care if Iraqi civilians would die as a result of the military campaign.
At this age, I understood that there was a contradiction in wanting revenge and wanting justice. I knew that wanting revenge meant the use of anger in order to obtain justice. For me, such a mentality can never lead to justice. Our reaction wasn’t mourning or the recognition of our global interdependence and how this could foster a significant cross-cultural political community. Rather, our reaction was retaliatory, violent, militaristic policies. It was the next step in leading me to nonviolence.