exploring violence & peace: an interview with nonviolence trainer simon moyle (part 3)

Welcome to the third and final instalment of my interview with antiwar activist Simon Moyle. Perhaps you would like to begin by reading Part 1 and Part 2.

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So far in our discussion Simon you have mentioned and quoted Gandhi, and that raises a worthwhile question. Everyone has heard of people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., 20th Century icons who brought about significant social change and who were influenced by the nonviolent teachings of Jesus Christ.
But to most people these figures seem legendary, almost superhuman; what have their legacies got to do with us, in our lives?

Hagiography has a lot to answer for in setting up Gandhi and MLK Jr. as unattainable ideals. You really need to read their stories to learn their struggles and failures. MLK was a notorious philanderer and adulterer who spent much of his life in depression and self-doubt. I mean, the civil rights movement was often a mess of egos, backstabbing and embarrassing failure. Gandhi was often a terrible father and husband – his eldest son ended up dying young and homeless. To some people these failings invalidate their work and witness – but to me it humanises them, makes their example more compelling. If they were able to achieve everything they achieved despite their brokenness, perhaps I have something to offer too.

We also have to realise that MLK and Gandhi alone – just like Hitler alone – couldn’t really achieve much at all. They were made to look good by the people who surrounded them – the ones who did the hard yards out of the public eye, going to gaol, being beaten. Certainly those people no doubt learned from the Gandhis and MLKs and looked up to them but did just as heroic things without the glory.

I guess it comes back to what you practice for, the stories in which you are formed. John Dear taught me to stop reading the newspapers, and just read the stories of nonviolence heroes – people who lived this stuff. Immerse yourself in it. That’s the kind of dedication it takes to untrain the myths we’re fed through the dominant culture, and learn the alternatives. Gandhi and MLK aren’t perfect, but their lives have much to teach us, as do the lives of those who surrounded them and have since lived out of their example.

Changing track a little bit, you mentioned before how your discipleship journey led you from addressing issues like poverty and climate change to advocating for peace. How is violence and warfare connected with other global issues, such as poverty?

Most warfare is perpetuated in order to gain or maintain domination over various national interests, usually resources and geopolitical space, and usually by the rich (who have or control the weapons) over the poor (who are often too preoccupied with survival to provide sufficient resistance to stop it). That’s the context of many recent wars (despite the humanitarian rhetoric used to justify them).

Development simply can’t happen under the kinds of insecure conditions that result from war. Shops shut because supplies are scarce or inaccessible, people don’t or can’t access the services they need, and all effort goes into survival instead of building the kind of interactions that will build civil society and stabilise the situation.  This means countries in conflict are under a double disadvantage – not only are they starting behind, but also they’re going backwards because there’s no stability from which to build.

War destroys every condition under which human life flourishes – in particular the trusting relationships necessary to build the kind of stable civil society that characterises healthy communities. Families, friends, communities are torn apart and traumatised for generations. For example, countless generations of farming expertise in Afghanistan are gone because one generation of men with the knowledge and skills have gone to war and never returned.

I’m not saying don’t give aid, but I am saying that when it’s combined with military objectives, lacks accountability and is not locally driven, it complicates the situation in a myriad of ways.Add to that instability the clumsiness of what is often highly militarised aid and you’ve created a recipe for corruption. Corruption breeds cartels and militias, fuelling the internal conflict. The way aid is distributed is often poorly thought out, tied to military objectives, or the result of siloed thinking by people with no idea of local culture or customs, and the flow on effect is more damaging. For example, in Afghanistan at the moment, the more insecure a province is, the more aid money it gets. So there’s actually incentivised insecurity, while the places in a position to develop receive nothing. Billions of dollars in aid have been poured into Afghanistan in the last ten years, but very little of it has reached the people – much of it has been wasted on corrupt warlords or bribes and payouts, even to the Taliban, who we’re supposed to be fighting. There are good organisations there doing wonderful work, which are well worth supporting – mostly organisations that are Afghan-led or have been there a long time and thus know the culture. But around conflicts like this the culture of corruption is allowed to breed, and people become dependant on handouts. There are some in Afghanistan now calling not just for an end to the war, but an end to aid as well.

Global Arms Trade Infographic (Click to Enlarge)

On a broader level, the sheer amount of money and other resources (and in particular I include the amazing creativity and imagination of human beings) that is poured into violence is both unjust and counterproductive. The United States alone spends just shy of a staggering $1 trillion per year on the military – 43% of the world’s military spending, and six times the budget of its nearest rival. Even in Australia we spend around $70m a day. Now bear in mind this money goes mostly towards machines whose sole purpose is to destroy life and property. And this in a world where billions of people can’t afford the basic necessities – food, shelter, sanitation, medicine – and who die in enormous numbers as a result. Just a tiny, insignificant fraction would meet all of the Millennium Development Goals – all of them – and another small fraction would solve world poverty. So this money represents a double theft – both from the poor and from the lives of those on whom we unleash these weapons.

What do you say to an Afghan mother who can’t afford to feed her children, when the missiles you destroy her village with cost $58,000 each?

Think about the creativity and innovation required to make a UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle, or any other modern weapon. What if that kind of creativity was directed towards solving climate change – which is the greatest threat to humankind – or even something like poverty? As Gandhi said, “We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamed-of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence.” Let’s hope so.

Simon, in 2011 you travelled to Afghanistan to see for yourself how the war there is playing out. In your experience what do the poor and marginalised have to say about warfare and violence in countries such as Afghanistan where wars are currently occurring?

The day I left for Afghanistan the Red Cross, a fairly conservative organisation, released a report declaring human life in Afghanistan to be ‘untenable’. Afghanistan is the second poorest country in the world; it is the most food insecure country, with two thirds of the population unable to feed themselves year round. It is (according to Save the Children) the worst country in which to be born, to be a mother, and to be a child. While I was there I met one of the World Health Organisation workers who was responsible for sanitation – he said (in Kabul, the most developed place in the country) there was nothing separating the sewerage from the water supply.

What is more, a survey in December 2010 demonstrated that 93% of Afghans were not aware of the attacks on September 11th 2001. One girl I talked to asked why the richest, most powerful military in the world were taking more than ten years to defeat a ragtag bunch of militants armed with fertilizer and some 30 year old AK-47s.

Afghans have a saying, “Blood cannot wash away blood.” That’s wisdom borne of thousands of years of interethnic rivalries, power grabs, conflict and bloodshed.

It’s only a very small percentage of people who gain from war, and that’s mostly those already in positions of power and privilege. In the context of Afghanistan, it’s the warlords, the weapons manufacturers, the politicians and the generals. The rest are the victims – the ones terrorised as expelled Afghan Parliamentarian Malalai Joya puts it “between two enemies – one from the sky and one from the ground”. I’m talking about soldiers as well as civilians – US soldiers are committing suicide at the rate of 18 a day, and that’s before we get into deaths and injuries from combat.

My friends in Afghanistan are delighted by the Occupy movement because it tallies with their experience – a recognition that the 1% maintain their wealth and power by subjugating the 99%. That’s what war is – it’s the 1% getting the 99% to suffer and die for the profit of the 1%. The 1% don’t send their children off to fight and die, let alone go themselves. They get the poor to do that for them.

There is a lot of fear around a return of the Taliban (who the U.S. are currently negotiating a settlement with), but primarily what I’m hearing, particularly from Afghans outside of Kabul, is that there is no security for them anyway – in fact, the international presence makes them less secure because it is fuelling the insurgency and causing further instability and danger.

The concept of waging a war for security would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. What is more insecure than war? One Afghan friend describes it as being like a house fire – you can’t go about your ordinary business while it’s happening, you have to put all your energy into putting it out. And even once it’s out, you then need to spend your time rebuilding.

Thanks so much for your time Simon. I’m sure your experience and reflections about peace and violence will provide readers with a helpful and challenging perspective. In wrapping up, what message do you have for Christians who seek to faithfully follow Jesus along the journey of nonviolence?

Keep it up! Really, it’s the most exciting life, much better than anything offered by our culture. It’s certainly not easy, unlearning the dominant culture’s priorities and values, going against the grain and sometimes embracing difficulty and pain. When Jesus says he’s come to bring “life to the full” I don’t think he meant avoiding all difficulty, but it’s more than worth it.

I would also want to say that any commitment to nonviolence must emerge out of response to the love of God revealed in Jesus. Otherwise nonviolence either becomes a deadening legalism, a graceless drivenness, or a moral superiority, all of which are motivated more by how we look in the eyes of others than of God, and none of which are sustainable, life-giving or transformative.

And where possible, don’t do it alone! Have a community (it could be just one other person) with whom you can journey and act and be of mutual support and assistance. Don’t wait until you’re perfect or have it all worked out before acting – experiment, be gracious and forgiving with yourself (as God is) and take time to reflect and evaluate afterwards. And have fun!

You can download the entire interview in PDF format here. Please feel free to share it around, ensuring credit is given to interviewee (Simon Moyle) and interviewer (Matt Anslow).

Posted on January 27, 2012, in Conflict and Nonviolence, Q&R and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Matt.
    Thank you & thank you Simon.

    This has been a great thought provoking questions.

    Today’s question/thought.
    There has been a few thoughts on war/ violence in the middle east with the coalition forces & money spent etc.
    How can we make a difference where we are not involved and the world knows little of it. Especially in African nations , even Zimbabwe.

  2. Hey Darren, thanks for this.

    Actually it’s pretty rare that there is a conflict where we in the West are not involved, if you trace it back – often we’re either selling guns, or paying for one side or the other, or funding militias through the banking system, or fuelling it through buying their natural resources. It really depends on the conflict, but it’s worth doing some research. I know the DRC conflict, for example, is fuelled by the mineral needed for our mobile phones. (see a good article here: http://wagingnonviolence.org/2011/10/the-rotten-apple-fueling-conflict-and-the-user-friendly-co-option-of-gandhi/) So I reckon doing some research to find out how we’re involved (if at all) and then withdrawing your involvement through boycotts, etc, is one great way to get involved.

    Then get a group of people together who are passionate about it to educate other people and take action.

    If (as occasionally happens ;)) we’re not involved, you can do some research into peace groups in the country. In every country/region where there is conflict, there are peace groups – often underfunded, underresourced, and ignored by Western governments. Contacting these people, getting to know them, and perhaps helping to resource them is one great way to get involved. Too often Western intervention makes things worse; the most sustainable peace is the one where the population makes it happen themselves. But we can support them to do that, and that’s usually the best thing we can do.

    So really what we can do is limited only by our imaginations and a bit of research. As Dorothy Day used to say, “No one has the right to sit around feeling hopeless. There’s too much work to do.” Hope that helps. 🙂

  1. Pingback: Exploring violence and peace | mr. jones and me

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