Back in 1983, I sat in on a conference on women and social change.... [T]here was a recurring disagreement about the role of violence in fighting deeply unjust regimes.... [T]he South Africans... "We need to win our freedom as quickly as possible," they seemed to say. "We realize that it would be preferable to win that freedom in the best possible way. If we could win it just as quickly through non-violent means, we would surely do so. But you would not ask us to wait if you really understood what it is like to live in slavery." By contrast, many of the arguments made by the Indians turned on the effects that achieving self-government through violence had on one's own people. "Don't do this, they seemed to be saying: once you win your freedom, you will find that you and your people have grown accustomed to settling disputes by force and to demonizing your opponents. Think now about how to use the struggle you are waging to teach yourselves how to become citizens and to practice self-government. Do not wait until you win your independence to discover that self-government requires not just political power, but political responsibility."
What made this argument so fascinating and painful to watch was that it was so easy to see both points of view. Who could possibly deny the justice of either side? And yet I thought the Indian women were right. I did not think that they had forgotten what it was like to be oppressed. I thought they were warning the others off a mistake that they knew would be tragic, however comprehensible it might be. And I had just returned from Israel, where I had spent a lot of time thinking about the many, many ways in which completely comprehensible failures can echo down through the generations.
While I was in Israel, I had also wondered what would happen to all those Palestinian kids who had grown up in refugee camps in Lebanon, who had, as best I could tell, been taught a lot about RPGs and nothing whatsoever about how to function in a world in which conflicts are not settled by violence. I found it unforgivable that the Palestinian leadership that ran the camps seemed to have given no thought to the question: how can we bring these children up to be responsible citizens of any future state?...
So one thing I thought that the Indian women saw was this:Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.And another was this:Liberation is not just a matter of removing an oppressive government. It can seem that way when you live under tyranny. Nothing is more comprehensible than people living in apartheid South Africa, or under Saddam, thinking: if only that government were removed from power, things would be better. They would have to be. After all, how could they possibly be worse? Unfortunately, there are almost always ways in which things could be worse.
When the world has gone insane, we look around ourselves for those who remain sane. Come back soon.