Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Zen Master Dogen and the Crisis in Syria

It’s been a very interesting few days of developments in the crisis in Syria. The Syrian government agreed to a Russian proposal to hand over its chemical weapons and sign the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons treaty, which currently has 189 signatures on it. President Obama and his administration continue to press the case for military intervention, even as the diplomatic front has opened up. And recent polls suggesting a clear majority of Americans still oppose military action have been followed up by anti-war demonstrations all over the U.S., including here in the Twin Cities.

Reporting on the civil war in Syria tends to divide the conflict into two groups: the government-led military against an armed opposition composed of a mixture of grassroots Syrian groups and foreign “insurgents” from various terrorist organizations in the region. This fairly tidy, simplistic picture has actually been one of the reasons why so many Americans oppose military intervention. While plenty of folks truly reject warfare and military policing as a way to deal with international conflicts, others are driven more by a desire to avoid supporting either side, feeling that the choice between supporting the Assad government or a group of “terrorists” or “Islamic extremists” isn’t a choice they want to make.

Lost in all of this is the fact that the resistance movement started as a non-violent one, became violent in part because of U.S. arming of the rebel groups, and that non-violent efforts continue in Syria alongside the armed conflicts. When I wrote last week that Americans have a “crisis of the imagination,” this is a part of that. Odds are, if you polled the populace here, very few would even consider that non-violent resistance exists in Syria, or that it was the driving force early on in the conflict. This is the case, even though they were probably exposed to some news reports of the movement back in 2011. There are a variety of reasons for this, including Anti-Islamic sentiment and stereotyping, mainstream media coverage fixated on violence, and a general lack of awareness of the history and prevalence of non-violent resistance worldwide.

What would have happened if the U.S. and other nations had found ways to support the non-violent resistance movement back in 2011 that didn’t involve weapons? What if the international powerhouses put all of energy into an all out public campaign supporting non-violent resistance, encouraging their populations to help finance, document, and send prayer and meditation energy to the Syrians on the ground?

You can read the rest of the post here.

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