The Case For Peace

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I hope the Bush plan succeeds in capturing and putting on trial the terrorists. But we are naive to think we can rid ourselves of this form of evil till we confront the deeper realities that produce it. More military force, more spies, more repression of civil liberties at home--none of this can stop people willing to lose their lives to hurt us, and the sole reliance on power reinforces the tendency of many to resort to violence when they face problems that they experience as urgent and intractable.

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We in the spiritual world see the root problem here as a growing global incapacity to recognize the spirit of God in one another, what we call the sanctity of each human being. We live in a society that daily teaches us to look out for No. 1, to keep our focus on our own financial bottom line and to see others primarily as instruments to help us achieve our goals and satisfactions. We are consistently misrecognizing one another because we fail to see one another as embodiments of the holy. We have built a world out of touch with itself.

And that same insensitivity is institutionalized in the global system whose symbolic headquarters have been the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Yet we rarely look at our lives in these larger terms. We don't feel personally responsible when a U.S. corporation runs a sweatshop in the Philippines or crushes efforts of workers to organize in Singapore. It never occurs to us that when the U.S. (with 5% of the world's population and 25% of the wealth) manages over the course of several decades to shape global trade policies that increase the disparity between rich and poor countries, this directly produces some of the suffering in the lives of 2 billion people who live in poverty, 1 billion of whom struggle with malnutrition, homelessness and poverty-related diseases.

If we want to be effective in a long-term struggle against terror, we need a strategy to marginalize the terrorists by making it much harder for them to appeal to legitimate anger at the U.S. Imagine if the bin Ladens and other haters of the world had to recruit people against the U.S. at a time when:

1) the U.S. was using its economic resources to end world hunger and redistribute the wealth of the planet so that everyone had enough.

2) the U.S. was the leading voice championing an ethos of generosity and caring for others, leading the world in ecological responsibility, social justice and openhearted treatment of minorities, and rewarding people and corporations for social responsibility.

3) the U.S. was restructuring its internal life so that all social practices, corporations and institutions were being judged not only on whether they maximized profit but also to the extent that they maximized love and caring, sensitivity and an approach to the universe based on awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation. Imagine a new Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would make a corporation's ability to operate in the U.S. dependent on its ability to prove a history of social responsibility both in the U.S. and around the world.

If the U.S. uses this moment to develop this kind of "New Bottom Line," we will do far more to create safety for ourselves and our children than bombing Afghanistan will achieve. The ordinary citizens, fire fighters and police who risked (and in many instances lost) their lives to help others survive on Sept. 11 demonstrate a possibility that our culture has often rendered invisible: we could build a world based on generosity, mutual caring and spiritual wisdom. If we want a world of peace and justice, we need to be more peaceful and more just.

Michael Lerner is a rabbi and the editor of TIKKUN Magazine: A Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture and Society