I am struggling to discern my response to recent armed conflicts. As I write this, my country has commenced a military intervention in Libya; my country is fighting in Afganistan, maintains a presence in Iraq, patrols the oceans with hidden armed boats ... and has a long history of engaging in international warfare for well over a millenium.

What should be our response when our own country is threatened (arguably, in 1066, 1588 and 1940)?; when we see ethnic groups being supressed (Kosovo, Rwanda); or when we perceive repression, injustice and tyranny (Zimbabwe, Libya, Palestine)?

I am reminded of some facts about all conflicts. We never see the whole picture. There are always more points of view about the cultural and political context, the historical background, and the social and economic conditions that we are not aware of. We don't see the 'big picture' - and neither do, I suspect, the politicians and military leaders arguing for and against our involvement.  It is a truism that "history is always written by the victors" - and always with the benefit of hindsight. Our western view of world situations is based on western notions of justice and morality. But these are comparatively recent in origin and certainly cannot be regarded as in any way 'right' or infallible.  Try viewing an African, Middle Eastern or Asian TV channel for an entirely different view of our world.

reconciliation between menThe claims so frequently heard for a 'just war', or that 'God is on our side' are baseless to anyone who understands their sacred texts.  All spiritual teaching envisages a Divinity that is whole and undivided. In a heaven of non-duality, there can be no 'sides'. God does not support me against you; God seeks the highest truth for us both.

So from the perspective of someone seeking to live this life with more spiritual awareness, how should I respond to threats of warfare and aggression?  There are several starting points:

  1. No great spiritual leader or writer, in any tradition, has ever advocated war. Now that may be a contentious statement, but I ask you to test it. Whilst sacred texts are full of references to aggression, they are usually examples of a spiritual people being oppressed. Their leaders, teachers and writers almost invariably guide their followers towards tolerance, non-violence, humility, acceptance, and love.
  2. Fear never defeats an opposition. The use of hostility to defeat another always leads to resentment and a counter-sense of hostility, whether that is expressed or not. Ultimately, fear cannot win. And it is fear that is driving many conflicts - usually the fear of loss of personal, collective or economic power. The customary response of all oppressed people throughout history is to stay as hidden as possible and await a better time, even if that be many generations away. In our modern world, we are unwilling to accept this timescale. It is a strategy long-practiced by the Jewish people, and now in turn adopted by the Palestinians in response to Israel.
  3. Both spiritual and psychological wisdom demonstrate that most aggression is a projection by the aggressor of their own fears, hurts, repressions, insecurities and uncertainties onto others - and that the more they deny this, the more likely it is to be true.  Throughout history, the greatest tyrants have been those men (name me a female tyrant) devoid of the inner maturity and wisdom that would have engendered humanity and compassion within them.

And Muammar Gaddafy, the 'rebels', and our own military pilots?  It is a fact of all warfare in the past 100 years that as our killing-ability has become more technical and remotely controlled, civilian casualties of conflict have consistently outnumbered the military casualties. What can justify such an outcome? I suggest that what we see played out before us on our rolling TV aggression-shows is a panoply of fear. Fear amongst the ordinary people, fear amongst the fighters on all sides, fear amongst their leaders on all sides, and fear/fascination amongst the viewers. Each may believe in the justice and rightness of their  actions, whilst also playing the same game of 'my violence is more right than your violence'.

So where do we look for a spiritual response to violence. The most radical of all teachings is conveyed in the reported words of Jesus, "Love your enemies" (Luke 6:27-36). This is a remarkable passage that many find difficult to accept. We are urged not only to love those who act against us, but also to pray for them, allow them to take advantage of us, and hold them in compassion. We are reminded that loving our enemies is far more valuable than loving our friends. At first sight, this appears to be a charter for masochists. But on deeper reflection it offers much wisdom. By not responding to aggression, we minimise the opportunity for escalation. We actually remove much of the power of the aggressor by depriving him of the satisfaction of 'winning'. We adopt a humble and non-resistant stance demonstrating dignity and compassion towards the perpetrators.  This may not be a fashionable or easy response to adopt, but it is the one that aligns us with the greater forces of spiritual energy in our world. As such, it is a teaching we would do well to study and practice further towards each of the conflicts in the world.