Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris, je t'aime

The highly empathetic pacifist that I am, I felt my body tightening up after reading the news about the latest act of terror in Paris.  I shut down the computer and lay down for a few minutes in silence.

As I blog this, it is nearly a full day since that first report.  "Third World War" is one of the trending themes in Twitter.  Turns out that it was after something that Pope Francis said:
Left behind in Paris were the latest scars, said Pope Francis, from the “piecemeal Third World War.”
If we really want to talk about a Third World War, then I would submit that it already happened, and it was in a different context--Congo:
Between 1998 and 2003, an extremely complex and chaotic civil war engulfed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) -- a vast, thickly-jungled nation in Central Africa the size of Western Europe -- and spilled over into neighboring countries, including Rwanda, Angola, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Uganda.
While the estimated 5-million death toll from this war pales in comparison to the 15-million lives lost during World War I, and the 60-million who perished in the Second World War -- the DR Congo inferno was nonetheless was one of the ten deadliest wars in recorded history.
Moreover, given that the DR Congo war erupted in such incredible violence during the turn of the 21st-century (amidst the global internet communication phenomenon), its relative obscurity is puzzling, to say the least.
It was the deadliest since WW II.

In addition to the terrible tragedy of loss of lives and traumatic injuries--physical and mental--to many more, another problem arises, as Nick Gillespie wrote five years ago:
The problem isn't with the current moment's rhetoric, it's with the goddamn politicization of every goddamn thing not even for a higher purpose or broader fight but for the cheapest moment-by-moment partisan advantage. Whether on the left or on the right, there's a totalist mentality that everything can and should be explained first and foremost as to whether it helps or hurt the party of choice.
How can we begin to engage in constructive dialog in such contexts?  I do not mean a dialog with ISIS--those are irrational actors who are beyond any dialog.  I mean a dialog amongst the overwhelming majority of us who, thankfully, do not think and act like how ISIS and other terrorists do.  "It’s a simple strategy. It’s just not easy to implement":
[Reframing]  political arguments in terms of your audience’s morality should be viewed less as an exercise in targeted, strategic persuasion, and more as an exercise in real, substantive perspective taking. To do it, you have to get into the heads of the people you’d like to persuade, think about what they care about and make arguments that embrace their principles. If you can do that, it will show that you view those with whom you disagree not as enemies, but as people whose values are worth your consideration.
Even if the arguments that you wind up making aren’t those that you would find most appealing, you will have dignified the morality of your political rivals with your attention, which, if you think about it, is the least that we owe our fellow citizens.
Yep, easier said than done.  The inability to engage in a constructive dialog is why responses include stuff like this:

I hope some day we will learn how to talk with each other and take care of our common problems like ISIS.  Until then, it seems like this pacifist will have only stress-filled days :(


Anne in Salem said...

The author of the article writes like the situation in DRC is settled. My understanding is that it is far from safe or calm, though perhaps in comparison to 15 years ago, it is. The last line of the article is disturbing: Thus, at least 5-million have died (and millions more crippled, wounded and their lives ruined) utterly in vain. When is death not in vain? If people knew about the war, would the deaths not be in vain? I don't understand that statement.

How does one get into the head of someone who shoots dozens of innocent people for political reasons unrelated to the actions of the victims? I can't begin to conceive of how to understand such a mind. You are right. They are beyond dialogue.

Ramesh said...

Too raw and numb to comment. This is Mumbai revisited all over again.

May God be with those who lost their lives and the families they leave behind.

Sriram Khé said...

The DRC now is way calmer than when the war raged on.
The New Yorker had an awesome essay on an orchestra from Kinshasa, that says quite a bit about human resilience.

There is no way one can talk with ISIS. We are, therefore, looking at a couple of years of brutal war in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen ... if only everybody truly understood within themselves the powerful line that Hemingway wrote: "There is no finish to a war."

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