Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Injustice, Retaliation, Retribution, and Violence

This morning, a lot of Americans are waking up to a more hostile world.

Muslim Americans, Latino Americans, women, are going to find themselves facing verbal abuse, even violence.
Some will get angry, and they will want to react in kind.

Of course, we can imagine how an authoritarian violence-loving administration will respond to this type of retaliation by disgruntled minorities. The treatment becomes harsher, more violent. The response, then, becomes harsher and more violent. Each side justifies their actions as "just retribution", and the "just retribution" grows.

The USA starts to look more like Iraq.

I would like to say to the members of these targeted groups, "Do not respond to injustice with violence. Trust to democracy. We'll take care of it."

But to say that now is to utter an obvious absurdity. Democracy cannot always be trusted. Tyranny of the majority, and injustice against the minority, are real.

Still, that does not make violence a better solution. It may be more satisfying in the short run, but there are many and strong reasons to condemn it as a solution. We are not going to improve the quality of life with a growing cycle of violence. At some point, we are going to have to agree to end it and make peace. It will be much easier to do if we do not first create a long history of violent injustices demanding retaliation.

Yet, I can hear the response. “It is all fine and good for you to sit there in your position of white privilege and tell us to sit back and do nothing - to not make waves. Remember what Martin Luther King said. 'Justice too long delayed is justice denied'."

This is a fair and just accusation in many cases. It is not an accusation to be ignored.

However, it misinterprets my argument. King was the leader of non-violent protest, and he was responding to people who claimed that even non-violent protest was objectionable.

Anger is a legitimate response to injustice. In anger, one should act.

The problem is found in an escalating cycle of violence - until both sides feel that they must get in yet another act of retribution - justice demands it. And their retribution takes the form of violence against "them" - "the other" - regardless of individual guilt or innocence. That is what creates a place like Iraq, or Lebanon, or (until recently) Northern Ireland. It is an argument that sides fully with Martin Luther King against his critics. It is an argument for standing beside him, not against him. And for making it a duty to do so.

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