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All Necessary Measures: Responding to Syria with Our Imagination

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The Nonviolent Peace Force at Work in Sudan

The Nonviolent Peace Force at Work in Sudan

Dear friends,

I am breaking out of vacation mode from this blog because a really terrible thing may be on the verge of happening.

Please know this is not hyperbole. Yes, many terrible things have happened this year – the unjust decision in the Trayvon Martin case, the shooting of little children in Newtown, the continued plundering of our economy, to name just a few.

But this is the kind of terrible thing that will likely set off a global chain of destructive, violent consequences that may not have an end, or at least a merciful end.

As you’ve probably seen in the news by now, the use of chemical weapons in Syria has resulted in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people in that country. There are conflicting viewpoints about who is responsible for the use of these weapons, many saying the Syrian government is to blame, the government  blaming rebel forces. Either way, it is a terrible situation there, in a country that has been torn apart by civil war, and where more than 100,000 have been killed and nearly 2 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries since 2011.

What might happen if the U.K., the U.S., and other nations go ahead with military action, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has  hinted at? Well, again from the NYT, Iran has warned that it will launch a retaliatory attack on Israel. Russia has warned of “catastrophic consequences.”

Actions have consequences. This is how karma works. We can argue until we are blue in the face about how the consequences are wrong or not justified, but they will still happen. Many, many people stand to be injured or killed by this chain of reactions. Some are saying this has the potential to turn into World War III.

According to today’s New York Times,

Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain would push the United Nations to hold Syria responsible for last week’s chemical attack and authorize “all necessary measures” to protect civilians.

We can guess what Cameron means by this.

But what if instead of guessing we imagined something different?

What if “all necessary measures” meant something else? What if it could include:

  • Sending a massive peace army to Syria not with arms but with presence and skillful means to de-escalate the situation. There is such an entity, by the way: the Nonviolent Peace Force.
  • Economic sanctions.
  • Meeting with President Bashar al-Assad and engaging in dialogue.
  • Arresting President al-Assad and using the International Criminal Court system to investigate what’s going on.
  • Dropping love bombs on Syria… they might include food, clean water, medicine, and atropine, the antidote for gas attacks.
  • Sending medical aid.

What else? I know there is more. Leave your idea in the comments below.

Sure, some of these ideas may be naïve, some may not work or be counterproductive. I don’t know.

But the point is – can we break out of our binary mind that thinks of “response” only in terms of attacking or defending with military arms?

Right now, the most powerful peacemaking tool you have is your own imagination and your ability to communicate and share those ideas with others.

If one of those others you want to share with is President Obama, you can reach him in these ways:

Phone numbers:

  • Comments: 202-456-1111
  • Switchboard: 202-456-1414


Postal Mail:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500


Please also see this excellent page from the Friends Committee on National Legislation to find out how to directly contact your congressional representative in multiple ways…. the message is “Slow Down”!

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

14 responses »

  1. Thanks Maia, for taking time out to share these reflections. There seems to be a collective spirit at these crisis moments waking many of us out of the “binary mind” which limits imaginative responses. The collective “we” yell for leaders to reflect, we pray, we hold our breath hoping that maybe this time will be different…then tears fall along with the bombs. Someday, we will recognize our common humanity and act as one family, working creatively through conflict. We are personally responsible to act in the spheres we can, to warn, to pray…and to let our hearts burn with loving-kindness to ALL who cross our path each day.

    • Alan, thank you so much for leaving your poignant comment, and for all you have done to work for peace on a systemic level. For those who don’t know, Alan was the executive director of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund from 2006 – 2008.

  2. Great article! While there may many creative ideas, and there should be, to ameliorate the crisis in Syria, there is one that is time-tested and available to all governments: diplomacy.

  3. We in the US have become pretty good at managing the risk of our wars. We consider our assets and capabilities and make decisions in ways that limit our liabilities and provide as much relative safety as possible to those assets. So, with technologies such as very remotely piloted armed drones, guided missiles and covert imbedded special forces, we wage a war of advantage. We have calculations for “acceptable losses” of the people whose homeland is made our combat zone. We strike so-called enemy forces from positions that they cannot possibly reach in ways other than what we brand “terrorism”.

    So, what do we do? We can’t just turn a blind eye to the atrocities that are occurring in Syria (among other places). Don’t we have a responsibility to act when such criminal and inhuman acts are committed? That’s the responsibility of having such an advantage, right? When we hear the phrase “all necessary means”, the subtext is war. We are talking about finding the most advantageous way to serve our interests, the interests of our allies and the interests of global social stability and humane actions. Why wouldn’t we want to do everything possible to keep our troops safe by putting fewer boots on the ground to do it? It brings to mind the saying, “all’s fair in love and war.” What irony. Thinking outside the box doesn’t feel safe or advantage. So even in this “all’s fair” mentality, war, not love, it is. It doesn’t feel smart or comfortable. So the idea of love entering the options, that’s preposterous.

    But the truth is we are going to have to get uncomfortable if we want to change things. As long as when we think of “all necessary means” we can only see military options, we will only choose military responses. There will have to be a balancing entity to the military machine, and loud, articulate, big-picture ethicists outside of the military system who are able to illuminate these other options.

    So, let the “love bombs” rain down. War, uh, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!

    • “Loud, articulate, big-picture ethicists…” — let’s raise our voices, Angela!

      Thank you for your comment and for illuminating the dynamics at play within military strategy. Like many institutions and systems in our society, it seems to me that the military is a closed system, in the sense that ideas that are outside its particular paradigm don’t get any play. I don’t see the military as any ‘worse’ in this than any other system… it is simply the nature of most systems. But you are right — in order for a shift to happen, for a transformation to take place, we do have to get uncomfortable or at the least be willing to be changed.

      And love that Edwin Starr song…

      • I agree that the military system is to a great extent a “closed system”. It is very difficult to breach the dominant paradigm. I believe that what is needed is a collaboration of those with military experience and language (which provides trust and rapport with others in the military system) with those outside the system whose dominant logic is divergent from the historical military logical model. I am thinking of teams like Dr Leitch and General Sutton who have had higher than average success with engagement and buy-in from military leadership for interventions which seem unlikely in the current military way of enterprise.

  4. Pingback: In Syria, no bombing for now – at least from the outside

  5. I think using all the resources available to intervene without a military presence should be used.
    I am not sure how practical that is, nor am I sure that it serves the powers that be well.
    War is an industry which creates an economy. It has been so for a long time.
    Of course it would be great to use the might of the $$$ spent on arms and guns and drones and missiles, on attending to the displaced people , the refugees of war. On rehabilitating them, on providing shelter, and safety for them and their families.
    These would be powerful means of ending conflict..and bringing about peace.
    I think it needs a huge stretch of the imagination to accomplish this, with all the good intentions.
    The alternative has been the way. Politics get in the way, and the battles become about ego and power and greed, the collateral is populations who continue to be used to feed the egos of those in power.. All those in power share the guilt.
    This is my cynical view. I cannot see a coalition of countries saying :
    “What we need to do is to use all the resources available to us to go and heal the people with all the care that they need, to help them build homes, and schools, and regain their self-hood.
    Sorry if this is so disheartening.. I don’t have much faith….

  6. Action as sacred offering. Conscious intention supplanting reaction….two simple phrases, two powerful strategies. To me, nonviolence does not mean non-action, rather action minus the greed, anger, and delusion that leads to annihilation. Through the insight of action as sacred offering, I envision a response designed to appeal to our common humanity, human to human, outside the confines of dualistic thought. This potential then lays the groundwork for the expression of conscious intention in the forms of nonmilitary deescalation, accountability, and a reverence for each and every life. This is no flower-child mentality. I believe that these two phrases present a bolder and more courageous stance than any message a missile could impart. Nonviolence should not automatically imply timidity but a perception that views this road as savvy, wise, and practical. And it is my hope that our leaders will value these perspectives and the use of intellect over that of the trigger finger in their forthcoming decisions.

    I so liked the proposals listed in the original message and thank you for the opportunity to add my small voice.

  7. I am all for using alternatives to missiles–effective ones. The ones you listed, Maia, I feel are more in the realm of wishful thinking. Send the Nonviolent Peaceforce? They have to be invited before they come, and I didn’t hear Assad inviting them. Negotiate with him? Absolutely–but not while he still gasses his own people. Economic sanctions? Absolutely, only Russia and Iran will circumvent them. Bring him to the International Court? Great idea; first we have to catch him.

    When Martin Buber asked Gandhi what should be done by Jews in the Holocaust, Gandhi said to practice nonviolence. Martin Buber said it had gone a little beyond that. The Commandante of Auschwitz noted in his journals the tears of the mothers protecting their children, admiring their tender motherhood. That sensitivity never stopped him from sending them to the gas.

    The world needs a big spiritual awakening here, a vast experience of our interconnectedness in order to deal with the many threats humanity poses to itself and to the world. But frankly, right now I would go with a smaller agenda. I would take some military action against someone who uses chemical warfare against his own people. He wasn’t stopped the first time and now we have the second. Do I think it’ll bring peace to the region? No. Do I think it will stop him from killing more and more? No. But do I think that he will definitely think twice before launching another gas attack? Yes, I do. And so will others down the road who’ll note this and may decide at least not to pursue that avenue. It may be seen as a small achievement given the scale of things, but right now I’d go for that

  8. Pingback: Love, War, Peace, and Everything in Between: 4 Steps to Changing the World : The Liberated Life Project

  9. Pingback: Love, War, Peace, and Everything in Between: 4 Steps to Changing the World | Maia Duerr

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