Commentaries - the Evil that We, Too, Are Feeding

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 17/11/2015

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Wars have always been fought by many poor, young and innocent people who were sent to die by a few rich, powerful and guilty ones, who did not die in the wars that they themselves wanted and that were fed by their interests. This ancient and deep truth is less obvious but no less true today. We are really in a world war, which is different from the wars of the twentieth century but no less dramatic. A war about which no one knows when and where it started, when, where and how it will end. It is a liquid war in a liquid society. The interests at stake are (almost) invisible, we do not know who wants it, who benefits from it, who does not want it to end.

This inability to understand, which is present in all complex wars, is particularly strongly felt in this war, which should, however, not prevent us from the effort of thinking, and then fighting especially against the spread of false and ideological theses flooding in the aftermath of the massacre of Paris.

A very popular thesis locates the main, if not the only, reason for this war in religion, and in the inherently violent nature of Islam in particular. This thesis is as widespread as it is wrong. The Quran has its own ambivalence about violence, as we know. There are passages where it calls for a holy war. But there is also a version of fratricide between Cain and Abel in it that even more than the Judeo-Christian Bible, powerfully speaks of nonviolence. In the Quranic account, the two brothers are talking to each other in the fields. Abel senses that Cain is about to raise his hand against him to kill him, and tells him, "Even if you extend your hand to kill me, I am not extending my hand to kill you." (the Holy Quran, al-Ma'idah: Sura 5,28). Abel is presented as the first non-violent person in history, who dies so as not to become himself a murderer. In the Quran there is also this. As in the Bible there are the Benjamites, the daughter of Jephthah, the pages where we praise God because he smashed the heads of the enemy's children on the rocks, and there is the Lord of hosts, or Jesus who said he came to bring "not peace, but a sword."(Matthew 10). The sacred texts of religions were written in times when war was ordinary part of life ("at the time when kings go forth to battle," 2 Samuel 11). At the same time, the great religions - and Islam is among these few - have developed a wisdom literature (think of the Sufi tradition) that offered symbolic and allegorical readings even for the toughest and most archaic pages. In some periods the brightest pages of the Quran (and there are quite some) exerted such a great light that would obscure the dark ones. At other times violent steps were taken by those who, in the name of religion, were simply seeking power and wealth. Today, Islam is going through a difficult phase. Fundamentalist sects use pieces of the Quran to brainwash young people, victims and perpetrators of a nightmarish, mad dream in which they have fallen. They are but prey, fallen into the trap of the hunters of 'martyrs' to be used for purposes where the Quran is simply the snare. To combat this disease that has now sunken into the heart of Islam and is undermining it from within, it is necessary to strengthen its immune system to support the body, which as a whole is healthy but is suffering. It is the same body that has to expel the virus that has entered it more decisively and resist against those maddened cells that are making it weaker, inflicting a lot of pain on it. But all lovers of life must help Islam to manage. In the era of globalization, it cannot do it alone.

At the same time, we should not be so naive as to forget that in this war the economic stakes are enormous. It is by no coincidence that the terrorists of Paris came from the poorest Belgian town of Belgium, where youth unemployment is at around 50%. It is not for certain that the first Gulf War of 1991 was originated for the prevention of the spread of fundamentalism.

In recent months there is much talk of the weapons fuelling this war. We must talk about it even more, because it is a decisive element. Just a few days ago a transport of missiles left from Cagliari to the war-stricken Middle East that was produced and sold by Italian companies. France along with Italy is among the largest exporters of weapons of war in the Arab regions, although there is a 1990 law in Italy that would ban the sale of weapons to countries at war. The politicians who shed tears, perhaps sincerely, and declare all-out struggle against terrorism, are the same people who do nothing to reduce the export of weapons, and defend national industries that move large shares of GDP and hundreds of thousands of jobs. A serious international moratorium that would impose a total ban on arms sales to countries at war would surely not mark the end of the Caliphate, ISIS and terrorism, but it would be a decisive move in the right direction. You cannot feed the evil that you want to fight. And this is what we are doing, and for many years now. We do not realize it until some splinter of those wars gets into our houses and kills our children. In fact we know that as long as the economy and profit will be the last words of political choices, such strong powers that no policy can hold in, we shall continue to cry for grief that we ourselves contribute to cause.

Hollande was wrong to speak of "revenge" in the aftermath of the massacre, and then perpetrate it by bombing Syria on Sunday, thereby responding to blood with more blood. This is only the law of Lamech, from before the same 'law of an eye for an eye'. Revenge should never be the reaction of civilized peoples, even after one of the darkest nights of the recent history of Europe. The largest defeat would be to bring back words like 'revenge' in the lexicon of our democracies, which have been eliminated after thousands of years of civilization, blood and pain.

Finally we have to give our serious and decisive support to those who are boldly seeking peace and dialogue in these difficult times. First of all Pope Francis, who cannot be the only one or the only voice to ask for peace and non-violence. If millions were to cry out that the only answer to death is life, and if we were saying this along with many Muslims wounded and torn like us, if we made it heard in the streets, in social media, before parliaments then our 'no' to the production and sale of our arms to those who use them to kill and to kill us would perhaps provide a stronger echo to the prophetic words of Pope Francis. They may have the strength to move even the lower economic interests, which increasingly control and dominate the world, religions and life.

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