Violence Begets Violence

Michael Lerner writing @ Tikkun slams the use of violence.

I am sickened by this despicable act. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society, and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only be obtained through nonviolent action and anything else runs counter to our most deeply held American values.

We at Tikkun are fully aligned in our opposition to violence of any sort and condemn it in the strongest possible terms. We do so on spiritual, religious, and ethical grounds. Human life is sacred and should be protected and helped to flourish. This is a central teaching of the Bible and of Judaism through the ages. We also oppose it on strategic grounds. When anyone who could be seen as connected to liberal and progressive causes engages in violence, (against property even, but especially against human beings) he or she creates a new opportunity for the most reactionary forces in our country to pass new laws restricting free speech, to bring indictments against social change activists, to incite law enforcement to use excessive levels of violence, and to build popular support for new measures of repression.

While we agree with Sanders on most of what he said, we are also aware of statements made by others that have picked up  the notion that violence runs against American values or is in some way oppositional to what America stands for in the world. We will soon be celebrating Independence Day, July 4th, in which many Americans will celebrate the violent revolutionary uprising against the British and sing songs like the national anthem with its praise of “rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and set off firecrackers to relive that violence.

The sad fact is that the United States of America has consistently used violence to achieve its policy aims, invading other countries with troops (Korea, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the list goes on), training South and Central American police and military at the “School of Americas” in Ft. Benning, Georgia, in the use of violence and torture to defeat populist movements challenging undemocratic governments, , the Obama and Trump administration’s’ bombing from drones or airplanes civilian populations (e.g. these past many months assaulting the people of Yemen as part of our growing alliance with the reactionary and repressive and human-rights-violating regime in Saudi Arabia), and the policy of the Obama presidency to select individuals to be assassinated by drones and without trial in countries around the world who are suspected of being or aiding terrorists (and in the process, murdering at least several thousand non-combatant civilians). It sickens us to listen to the hypocrisy of those in the media who talk about this latest (immoral) assault on government officials as if it is somehow outside the path of violence that has been part of American society and celebrated as such by many.

The current Congress is engaged in another kind of violence—what is reasonably called institutional violence—when they vote to destroy health care benefits to those who are sick but cannot afford to pay for care, when they vote to remove benefits that have helped provide food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless, when they remove environmental measures that have been put in place to slow down the violence future generations will face very soon from floods and rising water levels and from the weakening of global food production. These are violent consequences of acts this Congress and this President are taking, and they deserve to be punished along with other violent actors.

It is predictable that those who are destroying the planet, using violence worldwide to achieve their policy goals and to protect American corporate interests, will face more violence from random individuals incensed by the hypocrisy that they hear from elected officials and media personnel pretending that America is an exception to, rather than a perpetrator of, the violence that is poisoning our world.

So when correctly condemning any acts of violence by those who protest the overt and institutional violence of our political and economic system, we ought simultaneously renew our critique of violence in all its forms and our mourning for and protest against the daily violence that is a central element in the way the U.S. has built and  maintains its global and domestic power. And perhaps even have a moment of compassion for the deeply misguided among us who, in moral outrage at the violence of this system, resort to violence rather than to the kind of empathic organizing that the (interfaith and secular humanist welcoming) Network of Spiritual Progressives has been offering (more info: as the most effective way to deal with the destructive and immoral policies of the Trump Administration and the daily suffering and deaths caused by the normal operations of our global system of selfishness, materialism and endless growth at the expense of Earth’s life support system. Yet this compassion must be tempered by our strong condemnation of all forms of violence, no matter how well intended.

  • Rabbi Michael Lerner is the editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley Ca.  and author of 11 books including The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right,  with Cornel West: Jews and Blacks—Let the Healing BeginEmbracing Israel/Palestine, and Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation.

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