Monday, August 29, 2005

“If you want peace, work for justice”

If you live in America, I’m sure you’ve seen this bumper sticker before. It has a nice sort of leftwing progressive ring to it, doesn’t it? One of my neighbor’s car has this popular bumper sticker slapped on the rear bumper. But something about this slogan scares me. On the surface it seems hunky-dory: After all, good people want peace, and good people believe in justice. So why the concern?

“If you want peace, work for justice.”

Let’s look at this closer. The opposite of “peace” is “violence.” The slogan suggests that “justice” creates “peace"; so following this line of reasoning, one can conclude that “injustice” generates “violence.”

I guess the first question I have for the bearer of this slogan is: Are people who commit violence in the name of a perceived injustice thus justified? Is that what this slogan actually suggests? It seems so to me. In my mind, however, promotion of violence doesn't seem very liberal and progressive...

There is a lot of injustice in the world. Is it always okay to respond violently in response? Who, exactly, is to be the arbiter just how “unjust” something is? How violently should one respond in relation to a real or perceived injustice? And what constitutes a real or perceived injustice? This is where the slogan gets really morally and ethically iffy, especially when dealing with complex historical and religious issues.

A lot of Nazis might have honestly believed that Jews represented a real threat. Did that perception justify genocide? After emancipation, African-Americans were forced to ride in the backs busses (among many other horrible indignities)—would that have justified the indiscriminate bombings of busses in the South?

As we know, the Jews did not represent a threat to Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, many Nazis and others believed the Jews were wreaking injustice on non-Jews, and the result was that European Jewry was all but eradicated.

Here we have an example of a perceived injustice that resulted in an extremely violent reaction. Thus, according to the logic of the above bumper sticker, the Holocaust may have been an understandable reaction to the unjust evil machinations of world Jewry. We don’t really know what the bearers of this bumper sticker believe because the message leaves it to the reader’s subjective perception of what constitutes an injustice and how violently (the opposite of “peace”) one should respond to it.

Let’s go back to the Jim Crow South:

How did African-Americans respond to the injustice of Jim Crow Laws? By and large they protested against racism peacefully, using their moral authority to shame white society into eventually scratching Jim Crow laws.

The above cases represent two interesting examples of perceived injustice, real injustice, and responses to them. What is bothersome about the aforementioned bumper sticker is that it makes no distinctions between real injustices, perceived injustices, and the types of reaction one should use in the face of them.


Blogger airforcewife said...

There was a fundamental difference in the peaceful protests of the South transforming Jim Crow (and Ghandi can be included her also) from most other world situations in that the civilization that they were protesting in was not going to commit wholesale slaughter of people staging a sit in.

Not to say there was no danger - those Alabama policemen of the time loved siccing dogs on marching blacks. The kkk certainly trolled for murder victims.

But because such incidences filled most of the country with a visceral disgust - they could be stopped.

I once asked someone I know (who refers to Israel as "occupied Palestine") what would happen if the Palestinians laid down all their rocks, bomb belts, and guns and sat down in Israel. He admitted "they would probably get everything they've ever asked for."

I asked what would happen if Israelis did the same in Gaza. He refused to answer.

Because he knows they would be slaughtered and the slaughter would be celebrated.

People who can reduce their political beliefs to a piece of 8.5 x 4 plastic laminate are either too vapid to be given the time of day, or so jingoistic that they should be avoided like the plague.

6:32 AM  
Blogger semite1973 said...

Airforce wife, my sentiments exactly!

7:10 AM  

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