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Overcoming Violence

by Dorothee Soelle Tuesday, May. 27, 2003 at 11:44 AM

"I compare this new movement with the early battles for the abolition of slavery in the 18th century..At that time a hundred years were needed to abolish slavery, end child labor and introduce minimum wages..We need a different economic globalization from below..

Overcoming Violence

By Dorothee Soelle

[This address occurred a week after the attacks on New York and Washington on September 18, 2001 in the political night prayer at St. Katherine’s church in Hamburg, Germany. Dorothee Soelle, author of “Suffering”, “Love and Work”, “The Arms Race Kills Without War”, “A Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance”, “Thinking of God” and “On Earth as in Heaven”, died at the age of 73 on April 27, 2003. Her address is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

We live in a cycle of violence and are caught in it. Our prison is the best furnished in world history. Still we are captive in the cycle of violence producing counter-violence. Terror demands counter-terror raising the first terror to another level. Is there no freedom any more to break through the circle? Must we remain spectators when violence increases daily and threatens the lives of the majority of people, fellow-creatures and our mother earth?

I quote from an interview with Jean Ziegler, the UN special ambassador for the right to food. He said on the World Trade Organization (WTO): “The WTO is incarnate neoliberalism. WTO fundamentalists hope to solve all problems by absolute market mobility. The disappearance of the normative forces of the state should bring peace, freedom and well-being for all. This is a totally absurd, irrational idea.” In reality, this destruction of all legal rules brings new forms of slavery and impoverishment. Think of the seamstresses who make our T-shorts so marvelously inexpensive.

My physician daughter living in Bolivia told me that half of the deaths in the mountainous Andes land are now suicides. The impoverishment is so great that younger people from the villages flee to the urban slums, to begging, prostitution or the drug trade. The older persons staying behind see no sense any more in a vegetating existence.

The consensus of the rulers of this world, the agreement of the WTO, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund with the most important economic nations, the G8, is based on “three principles: privatization, total mobility and deregulation”, according to Jean Ziegler (taz, Nov 7, 2001). We live under a new totalitarianism that is far more clever and skilful than the two other forms of totalitarian rule. This totalitarianism doesn’t shout commands but speaks with a soft voice and dominates all things.

The main question in the last years has become the single question “what does it profit”.

German chancellor Schroder spoke of a “declaration of war against the civilized world”. The phrase goes back to Samuel Huntington’s “clash of cultures”. However should the rich with their hearts of stone be described as “civilized” and the impoverished as “uncivilized”? Or to speak with George Bush, is there now the “monumental struggle waged by the good against the evil? Which heart speaks?

Our heart of flesh occasionally knows about the impoverished world. Perhaps one has a presentiment about what is necessary regarding this barbaric catastrophe. Military retribution is not central but a correction of our way of life, an examination of the values determining our conduct, an admission of our own guilt or culpability in the suffering, misery and humiliation of those who see us as their enemies. The first war in the 21st century is announced.

While the murder of 6000 civilians was barbaric, we should not close our eyes to the fact that war is already underway, the economic war of the strong and the strongest against the weak and the weakest. This war must finally end. This economic war produces nothing but hatred and the destructive will of the strong, technologically perfect intelligentsia who cannot see any hope any more in the world of misery.

“Suicide assassin” is a new frightening term. In the past, people said “Smash what smashes you.” No technological, economic or military superiority helps. We are vulnerable as people and as an open society. As long as the economic war continues, the threats will increase for us. The window of vulnerability cannot be closed. That was a basic mistake that is absolutely transfigured and normalized in the Reagan-Bush tradition.

Noam Chomsky, one of the sharpest critics of the US since the Vietnam war, said the attack on the Twin Towers was a “crushing blow to the Palestinians, the poor and oppressed… because it pushed their legitimate fears and complaints into the background… If the US government grants Bin Laden’s prayers (a marvelously ironic sentence) and carries out a massive attack on Afghanistan or some other Muslim society, what Bin Laden and his allies want will come to pass – a mobilization against the West” (taz, Sept 20).

I sometimes ask myself who is really the terrorist. I will present other voices of the “other America” because the American opposition against Bush & Co. is so unknown to us in Germany. The opposition takes up the term terrorism and asks who are actually the terrorists who murder in Colombia, Palestine, Kosovo, Rwanda, Bosnia and the Congo and who are the underlying sponsors and interests. Those fighting against the terror of the economy include landless farmers in Brazil, women in India rebelling against the bio-piracy of Monsanto and pious Christians who still know that we should forgive our debtors. The mammoth and growing movement against the globalization from above is nonviolent. The masters of this world were protected in Genoa by police terrorists.

An American friend, a theology professor, wrote a circular about “our beloved America” after September 11: “We are violent at home and abroad. We are leading in manufacturi8ng weapons and selling them. We have supported some of the worst oppressive systems of the world. We helped in terrorist actions against their own population. We have cultivated a lifestyle for ourselves that requires the impoverishment of others.” (Tom Driver)

Many years ago I had a conversation with an American friend about disarmament. Money and Mars, the god of war, two different esteemed idols of our world, are involved. “Mammon kills more little children than Mars.” The sentence about mammon that kills more little children is increasingly true. We live in a new epoch that has become more barbaric in many regards than earlier forms of capitalism.

I was a passionate adversary of the Adenauer system against the rearmament that was the price for the economic wonder. I caught myself sometimes in a nostalgia for “Rhine capitalism” as the past system was joyfully described. “Rhine capitalism” united capital interests with social care and responsibility for the weaker.

This is over with globalization from above, neoliberalism and the stormy turbo-capitalism. Countervailing considerations have become superfluous. The self-aggrandizement of the rich functions best when everything is “deregulated”, a favorite word of the world owners. All economic rules and restrictions are regarded as barriers of free trade and abolished. This coheres with the deregulation/disempowerment of the state or its “trimming” as our rotund chancellor recommends.

The economy is becoming increasingly totalitarian. The most important question in life is “does it profit?” Should the kindergarten be kept open an hour longer or another half-day worker employed in the old people’s home? Money is profitably exploited without satisfying human needs. Why should money be invested in satisfying social needs when winners can make more money?

Margaret Thatcher, a glowing representative of neoliberalism, summarized this in a marvelous phrase “There is no alternative”. Combining the first four letters of this simple sentence, this thinking is called “the TINA syndrome”. We all suffer in this sickness. This alternative-less thinking harms us more than our many skin allergies.

Alternatives exist. Resistance against this new totalitarianism of the economy grows worldwide. Adversaries of false globalization have appeared more clearly and publically since Seattle, Prague, Davos, Quebec and Genoa. The 200,000 people in Genoa and their organization ATTAC coined a beautiful simple sentence that agrees with the Jewish-Christian tradition: “The world is not for sale.” The world, the air, water, and sex slaves are not commodities inscribed “For Sale”. There are things that cannot be bought and sold. The world is not for sale. Life on this earth beloved by God is not for sale.

I compare this new movement with the early battles for the abolition of slavery in the 18th century. The abolition movement was an essentially nonviolent movement initiated by Quakers and other Christians. Today something similar arises before our eyes and among us. We all know how the globalization from above produces new forms of slavery that make our T-shirts so cheap. At that time, a hundred years were needed to abolish slavery, end child labor and introduce minimum wages.

This struggle awaits us. We could learn what is necessary today from the history of nonviolence. Mahatma Gandhi called this form of freedom “the greatest power in the hands of humanity, mightier than the most powerful destructive weapon.” We should believe in this power.

One of the many new movements in the US is “Justice, not Vengeance”. People like Rosa Parks, Alice Walker and Gloria Steiner join the struggle. Large cities like San Francisco and Seattle declared themselves “hate-free zones”. Justice is the necessary answer to terror. Justice is slow, reflective, patient and long-term. Vengeance or revenge is often fast and its results are very short-term. The vindictive has no vision in the past and no future ahead. These are messages that we hear from America and should naturalize in Germany. In other words, nothing will improve if we do not change ourselves. Jesus said whoever takes the sword will perish with the sword.

The essential living conditions in our world have changed. These conditions have worsened for 80% and cannot be endured any more.

Rebelling for peace means today “Rebelling for justice”. Justice is the basic condition for peace. In 1983, I was in Vancouver for the WCC (World Conference of Churches) world assembly. People from the South called our attention to the sequence. Justice and peace belong together but justice comes first.

Globalization from above is a barbaric system of impoverishment of the majority of humankind and destruction of the earth.

We need a different economic globalization from below in the interest of the earth and the interest of the poorest..

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