For weeks, I’ve listened to the debate addressing the war in the Middle East. Supporters of Israel argue the necessity of war and casualties in their attempt to destroy Hamas. Supporters of the Palestinians (not Hamas) argue that Israel’s attempt to destroy Hamas is an overreach resulting in death, destruction and potential long-term occupation.  

The debate over this current war—and every prior political and humanitarian conflict between Israel and Palestine— will continue well beyond my lifetime. I have friends and colleagues on both sides of this conflict, listening to each other with respect and compassion.

With that said, there are two results of this current conflict I want to address: (1) the rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia and (2) the long-term death toll war and violence produce.

In a recent NBC News story, the Anti-Defamation League reported antisemitic acts have risen 388% since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. The Council on American-Islamic Relations said that requests for help and reports of Islamophobia have also spiked. Reports have grown to such an extent President Joe Biden’s administration warned U.S. schools and colleges that they must take immediate action to stop antisemitism and Islamophobia on their campuses.

The Department of Education provided schools and colleges with two guides, one for younger students and the other for higher education.  The National Center for Safe and Supportive Learning Environments put the guides together.

People of faith need to stand up, speak out and step forward to counter antisemitism and Islamophobia.  Discrimination in any form dehumanizes people, subjugating them to levels beneath value and worth.  There should be no place for that type of belief and practice in anyone’s religion.

Even though the saying comes from the Apostle Paul, his words are wise for all of us to heed, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).  We need less hate and war in the world and more compassion and kindness.  

In regards to the long-term ramifications of war, earlier this year, The Washington Post reported on a study released by Brown University demonstrating the overall cost of the post-9/11 wars. Conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen were all considered.

The total death rate from those conflicts ended up being between 4.5 to 4.6 million people. Out of those deaths, the report estimated that 3.6 to 3.7 million of those casualties were “indirect deaths” caused by “the deterioration of economic, environmental, psychological, and health conditions.” In other words, even when the bullets and bombs stopped, the deaths did not.  The casualties of war far outlived the original conflicts.  

Peace from war does not always mean escaping death. And if these numbers are accurate—which there is no reason to believe they are not accurate — then these are the even greater mass casualties from war that far outweigh deaths brought about by bullets and bombs.

The Washington Post offered an example of how the death toll rises even after the bullets and bombs stop flying, “A Post investigation found that while Iraqis fell sick and died after exposure to open burning trash pits that U.S. soldiers established by military bases, there has been no American effort to assess, yet alone compensate, the local impact. Last year, U.S. veterans succeeded in a years-long fight for government recognition of the toxic risk.”

While humans wage war on each other, war wages war on everyone

U.S. Commanding Army General William Tecumseh Sherman once quipped in a speech given in 1879 after the Civil War, “I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”

Sherman’s counterpart, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, echoed his remarks, “It is well that war is so terrible; otherwise, we should grow too fond of it.”

Sherman and Lee, battlefield enemies, are teaching us something today: the powerful and privileged have grown too fond of war. They have fallen to the actions of Peter, drawing their swords first without regard for further consequences. It’s no wonder Jesus responded to Peter, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52).

If Jesus would permit me to add to his words, I would include, “Those who draw the sword will die by the sword…taking many more with them to the grave even after the blood-stained sword is sheathed.”

Before he exhorted Peter, Jesus proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Where are the peacemakers today?

Bill Watterson, creator of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, asked an important question in 1986 through the voice of an imaginary tiger named Hobbs, “How come we play war and not peace?”  His young friend, Calvin, answered, “Too few role models.”

As people of faith, let’s champion peace and not war.  

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