|Where Does This Violence Come From?
by Rabbi Michael Lerner
Editor, TIKKUN Magazine
There is never any justification for acts of terror against
innocent civilians--it is the quintessential act of dehumanizaiton
and not recognizing the sanctity of others. The violence being
directed against Americans today, like the violence being directed
against Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorists, or the
violence being directed against Palestinian civilians by the
Israeli army occupying the West Bank and Gaza, seem to point to a
world increasingly irrational and out of control.
It's understandable why many of us will feel anger. Demagogues will
try to direct that anger at various "target groups" (Muslims are in
particular danger, though Yassir Arafat and other Islamic leaders
have unequivocally denounced these terrorist acts). The militarists
will use this as a moment to call for increased defense spending at
the expense of the needy. Right wing may even seek to limit civil
liberties. President Bush will feel pressure to look "decisive" and
take "strong" action--phrases that can be manipulated toward
irrational responses to an irrational attack.
To counter that potential of mass panic, or the manipulation of our
fear and anger for narrow political ends, a well-meaning media will
instead try to narrow our focus solely on the task of finding and
punishing the perpetrators. These people, of course, should be
caught and punished.
But in some ways this exclusive focus allows us to avoid dealing
with the underlying issues. When violence becomes so prevalent
throughout the planet, it's too easy to simply talk of "deranged
minds." We need to ask ourselves, "What is it in the way that we
are living, organizing our societies, and treating each other that
makes violence seem plausible to so many people?"
Its true, but not enough, to say that the current violence is a
reflection of our estrangement from God. More precisely, it is the
way we fail to respond to each other as embodiments of the sacred.
We may tell ourselves that the current violence has "nothing to do"
with the way that we've learned to close our ears when told that
one out of every three people on this planet does not have enough
food, and that one billion are literally starving. We may reassure
ourselves that the hoarding of the world's resources by the richest
society in world history, and our frantic attempts to accelerate
globalization with its attendant inequalities of wealth, has
nothing to do with the resentment that others feel toward us. We
may tell ourselves that the suffering of refugees and the oppressed
have nothing to do with us--that that's a different story that is
going on somewhere else. But we live in one world, increasingly
interconnected with everyone, and the forces that lead people to
feel outrage, anger and desperation eventually impact on our own
When people have learned to de-sanctify each other, to treat each
other as means to our own ends, to not feel the pain of those who
are suffering, we end up creating a world in which these kinds of
terrible acts of violence become more common. No one should use
this as an excuse for these terrible acts of violence--the absolute
quintessence of de-sanctification. I categorically reject any
notion that violence is ever justified. It is always an act of
de-sanctification, of not being able to see the divine in the
We should pray for the victims and the families of those who have
been hurt or murdered in these crazy acts. Yet we should also pray
that America does not return to "business as usual," but rather
turns to a period of repentance and atonement, a turn in direction
of our society at every level, a return to the most basic Biblical
ideal: that every human life is sacred, that "the bottom line"
should be the creation of a world of love and caring, and that the
best way to prevent these kinds of acts is not to turn ourselves
into a police state, but turn ourselves into a society in which
social justice, love, and compassion are so prevalent that violence
becomes only a distant memory.
--Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of TIKKUN Magazine and rabbi of
Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in San Francisco. He is the author of Jewish
Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation and of Spirit
Matters: Global Healing and the Wisdom of the Soul.