Such a strange time to be writing, poised on the centenary of the outbreak of WWI – “the war to end all wars” – with war raging all round the edges of Europe. The most shocking, most polarising conflict is taking place in Gaza where, as I write, a fragile ceasefire is in the process of collapsing.
We are so far removed from the horrors of this war – those of us who don’t have to fear for the safety of their loved ones in the conflict zone – and yet it fills our waking hours. We are so far removed that some of us have (unwittingly) shared photographs of the bodies of dead children captioned with “please watch, the world needs to see” – only to discover that these are the dead children of other conflicts, killed by other wars; “interchangeable dead arabs” as one commentator chillingly observed. Sensationalism has its own agenda; it does not answer to the name of peace.
Yesterday I broke a golden rule: not to engage in debate on Israel and Palestine online. Not because I don’t see the value of debate – I passionately do – but because the difficulty in sustaining an honourable conversation on this intractable conflict is inflated a hundredfold by the distancing effects of typing words onto a screen. And the difficulty in sustaining an honourable conversation on this topic troubles me as deeply as any other aspect of this conflict.
If we, who are so far removed from the horrors of this war, are not able to talk about it with some degree of respect for one another’s views, what hope can there be for those who are trapped in that reality? What hope for peace?
It may seem easy to assume that our actions – all our online bickering and sensationalist images – don’t matter. The horror of war is so overwhelming, and we feel so utterly helpless in its wake; why not vent our despair, our rage, our utter incomprehension that humanity is capable of inflicting these atrocities upon itself? But our actions do matter. Each voice in this global conversation has a small part to play. The more voices there are for balance, openness and honourable debate, the greater will be the contribution to a culture in which real solutions can be examined and considered.
The next time you feel tempted to pass comment on a war raging far away from your lived experience, pause to consider your reaction: is it inflammatory, emotional? Is your comment a genuine contribution to a conversation? My intention here is not to stifle debate – on the contrary, I would be happier if we were all talking about these problems as openly as possible – but to encourage real conversation, in which we can listen to and learn from one another. In the name of peace, this is the very least that we can do.
[This post was inspired by bish’s thought-provoking comments on seeking peace.]