It has been just over a year since American military forces invaded Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction. The “war on terrorism” has perhaps become a rationalization for American military deployment and rather heavy-handed foreign policy aimed at defeating–or at least containing–the (supposedly) undisciplined and undemocratic use of radical force by other countries.
As the world watches on, regular and often-daily news coverage gives the whole sordid business a sort of surreal glow, punctuated periodically with cold-hearted, cold-blooded attacks designed to remind civilians and governments around the globe that acts of terrorism cannot be eradicated.
In the midst of it all I have a persistent sense that while we in the “non-combat zone” are focused on Iraq and the immediate questions of war and peace, we are missing the broader issues and the bigger challenges.
We have been subjected to countless opinions about the invasion of Iraq. From political and military analysts to cultural celebrities, everyone has an opinion and an angle. Representatives of religious organizations have offered their insights, pleading variously for peace or for decisive military action against evil. Governments around the world have negotiated and maneuvered under the watchful eye of the “fifth estate” to establish positions which will protect or advance their own political interests and agendas.
Protesters marked the anniversary of the invasion by marching for “peace.” What is peace? Surely peace is not simply the absence of military action. We talk of the cost of war in dollars and loss of life, but I wonder, do we have any idea of the cost of peace?
I sometimes have the sense that we are being manipulated by the media to only see those portions of reality that they want us to see at any particular time. But what of the broader picture? Can we pry open the lenses and look past the grisly consequences of terrorist acts to the scene behind them? Can we turn the camera on ourselves and expose our biases and assumptions? Can we look into our own hearts and acknowledge the deceit and selfishness which lurks there? Can we seek truth, even when it makes us squirm? Can we face our own ethnocentrism (the tendency to assume that our view is morally superior) and broaden the categories in our worldview so that we can see the gross inequities in the “global village” and determine to face our own fears in light of what we see?
It’s remarkably easy for us to talk about peace when we limit peace to the absence of military action. But if we are really committed to peace we must look past Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia and Palestine and Uganda and Northern Ireland and the hundreds of other places around the globe where peace is a distant illusion.
Many of us in the developed world have come to think of the global village as some sort of quaint, egalitarian, pastoral setting where life is simple and fair and just. What does the global village look like? What is life like for its inhabitants?
I recently heard a description of the global village which surprised and disturbed me. We can get a sense for life in this village if we suppose that it is comprised of 100 persons and reflects the basic demographic profile of the world as it is now. Picture this village of 100 where:
–Fifty-seven are Asian, 21 are European, 14 are from the Western Hemisphere and eight are from Africa;
–Seventy are people of color, 30 are Caucasian;
–Sixty-six are non-Christian, 33 are Christian;
–One half of the wealth of the world is in the hands of six people, and all six are from the U.S.;
–Seventy are illiterate, 30 are literate;
–Eighty suffer from severe malnutrition;
–Seventy-five live in sub-standard housing;
–Only one has a college or university degree.
Of course this is only a partial picture–environmentalists could certainly bring some of these points home in terms of our use of the natural resources of the planet and the sustainability of various practices sponsored by industry and business. Political scientists could comment on the political systems and structures we might find. Psychologists and other health professionals could give us some insight into issues of “quality of life” for the majority of people in this village.
If this portrait is true, peace, justice and fairness will come to the global village only through great sacrifice on the part of people like me and you–the privileged minority. Am I ready to make those kinds of sacrifices? As I envision peace do I have a realistic picture of what it looks like and what it costs?
What about authority and power in the global village? How should the global village be governed? What will “freedom” look like when all is said and done?
Here’s the bottom line for those of us who claim Jesus Christ as our Lord: what are the limitations of my faith when it comes to obeying His call to take up my cross and follow Him, to be a “living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1-2)? The world can focus on the invasion of Iraq, but where is Christ beckoning me to be at work for His purposes and for His glory? As I pray for Jesus’ Kingdom to come and for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, what does He want me to do? What is He preparing me to be?
This invasion will one day become a matter of historical record, and the attention of the world will be directed to other arenas, other stages, other scripts. What will we have learned and how will it have changed us? I pray not only for peace, but for wisdom, discernment and courage to hear and see beyond the images on my TV screen.
Lois Mitchell, Ph.D., is a sociologist who works part-time for the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches and Canadian Baptist Ministries in the area of Public Witness and Social Concerns