Confronting Empire “Out In The Open”

How can local peace initiatives contribute to efforts to avoid war, even in the face of grave threats to peace? There is an ancient Zen story. A monk lived in a cave in the mountains and he concentrated his time on meditation, knowing himself and making a painting of a tiger on the wall of where he dwelled. It was incredibly realistic and when it was finished he found that he was frightened when he looked at it and couldn’t stay in the cave. This experience is called “painted tiger” and everyone has known it and created it in their own mind. Not only individuals do this, but groups, nations, races and religions. In a certain real sense any peace initiative begins with alternative forms of knowing, communication and dialogue and inter-action–bridges that are begun, maintained and kept open, with interchange proceeding in both directions so that ‘painted tiger’ cannot dominate response to any situation.

Arundhati Roy (India) has written in response to confronting empire and war that we must make sure that what we are talking about or resisting is ‘out in the open’ and that groups must ‘refuse to buy what they are selling—ideas, version of history, wars, weapons and the notion of inevitability” (from “Confronting Empire–Another World is Possible”, talk delivered at World Social Forum at Porto Alegre, Brazil, Jan. 27,2003). As basic as it sounds, alternative information, education, dialogue and communication with all groups must be maintained. This is faciliated when there are groups already in place with a history, a reputation for truthfulness, openness, respect and presence are known and trusted. Every local church, organization and group must be coordinated together, but they must operate publicly as nonviolent conflict negotiators and facilitators of peaceful solutions, and as ambassadors, emissaries of open-door communications making the initiatives without waiting for situations to develop.

This means developing a vocabulary of peace, of resistance to violence that speaks without harm, and practicing that in communities over a long term, laying bases for support and trust that are essential prior to any decision to act. And it means education at every age level in communities that ‘practice’ with one another in religious bodies, local courts, prisons, organizing groups, schools, etc. Groups like Poets Against the War were already adept at individual resistance to language that is war-like, aggressive, insulting, disrespectful, and inciteful and could quickly come together on line and in local settings to speak out using their art form. In the US we are in desperate need of connections to local areas, churches, religious groups, educational institutions, civic organizations and local political structures prior to the beginning of hostilities.

In the face of grave threats, civil disobedience is not necessarily a way to open dialogue, especially when the media or even local religious group leadership acts without much connection to the general population that only has access to TV or local newspapers. It can often antagonize rather than encourage dialogue and too quickly separate along lines that preclude alternative responses. Inter-religious, inter-racial, inter-generational, and the drawing together of groups that already know each other are crucial to keeping down the levels of fear-of the unknown or the easily stereotyped enemy-making’ (painting the tiger on the wall).

The crane in most of Asia is the symbol of lasting peace and faithfulness…we need to learn to ‘paint the crane’ on our walls, of our minds, schools, courts, media and religious bodies, along with the disciplines of speaking, writing, public statements, sermons, short pieces for local newspapers, church bulletins, teach-ins everywhere from grocery stores and playing fields to city streets and plazas that seek to draw families and divergent elements of the community together knowing one another at close hand, erasing the ‘tiger in the mind’. Work across neighborhood lines and borders, segments of a city, no matter how small or sprawling and making ties (sister-churches, parishes) and visiting on both sides has to be in place. Then, as a last resort, bodies together will reflect common bonds of solid communion and resolve not to engage in violence, terror and destruction. But the first step is resisting, refusing to believe or accept as valid the assumption that any group of human beings is different than the rest of humans and that inevitably war is the answer. Painting the crane says No, violence is not an option. It stops here.

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