Let’s face it, some of us who hope to be inheritors of the peace activist tradition are regrettably notable for often lacking public credibility. While we all know people working at a grass roots level who can be held up as examples of the most heroic kind, often the public face of peace activism appears either ‘wooly’ or ‘strange’. In the UK, for instance, the de facto leader of the anti-Iraq War movement was an arrogant politician with a questionable ethical record, and without a meaningful strategy for addressing conflict.
In the US, Michael Moore’s tactics, while rooted, I believe, in a sincere sense of injustice, have alienated many people, and while striking, amusing, and sometimes moving, his more recent work has sometimes lacked the offering of a practical option for his audience to actually do anything to change the world around them. This can change, of course, and I want to believe that Moore’s best work is ahead of him. Having said that, the stereotype of the grey-bearded, sandal-wearing hippy activist is both well-known, and not taken very seriously. (Note to grey-bearded, sandal-wearing hippy activists: I think you’re cool all the same. I hope one day to have a grey beard myself.)
Another challenge to non-violence being taken seriously is the sheer scope of violent threat, real or perceived, in the 21st century. The post-nuclear/‘war on terror’ age has the potential to leave us feeling overwhelmed by both the viciousness of the present human enmities, and what ‘our’ governments can do in return.
When planes fly into buildings, or when monks are tortured, or when whole governments are hi-jacked by a military coup or a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, or when 2 million people marching against Tony Blair’s support for the war in Iraq fail to stop it, it is reasonable to feel – initially at least – somewhat powerless. Reasonable, and initially, but not forever.
If you ask me
‘How did Jesus raise the dead?’
I will kiss you on the lips,
and say ‘like this’.
– Rumi, still saying it, because I suspect he’s still right
More thoughts to follow…