What Violence Begets

"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Do you remember being a kid and your brother or sister punching you in the arm or slapping you across the head? Your first response was to hit back. Mine too. What else would you do? Stand there and take it?

I always lost these fisticuffs, partly because the first blow I administered scared me. I’m a bit of a wimp. But more to the point, my sister was far tougher and single-minded. Striking back always got me more of the same. I learned pretty quickly that the best way to get out of these situations was to talk my way out of them. Understanding her frustrations, putting myself in her shoes, and listening along with talking were my best defence.

 In the wake of the attacks in Paris, French police have begun rounding up the families of the dead attackers, I suppose on the grounds of guilt by association. It might make sense to some who want to find ways to guarantee security, but what it looks like is a misguided attempt at some form of revenge, the type of thing fanatics cling to in order to justify further violence and radicalize others.

All world leaders, including our own Prime Minister have said that the only response to the violence we saw in Paris this week is to strike back with force and whatever measures necessary to defend democracy. The kinds of measures he’s talking about will further erode our human rights in the same way actions taken after September 11th sanctioned such things as phone tapping, renditions and the torture of innocent people. Where did that get us exactly? Do we feel safer than we did then? Is the world a safer place?

None of our leaders have spoken about the root causes of the violence in Paris. Yes, it is difficult to remain calm in these situations. And yes, human instinct being what it is, it is natural to want to wield a bigger stick, flex some muscle and spew hyperbole. All this fear plays well politically on the home front, but it won’t prevent another attack.

To be clear: I do not in any way condone the violence that took place in Paris. I grieve for the waste of human life and potential of both the murdered and the murderers. And what frightens me is that these deaths will be in vain if we respond with similar viciousness. Dr. King said it better than I can: “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

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