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An erstwhile pacifist's IS quandary


Peace sign

I used to style myself a pacifist. Or hoped I was one. Or something. But that was before I had children. The minute I clapped eyes on my first-born, I realised that any threat to him would see me transformed into a murderous monster, and I later felt the same about his two brothers. Nor does passion diminish with age: woe betide anybody who even attempts to harm my three grandsons.

Life, as we know, plays tricks, is deeply ironic, so formerly pacifist me has had to cope with the fact of a marine commando son, a member of the Greek Special Forces. I strive mightily to avoid thinking about his training and expertise, while being deeply thankful that so far he has not seen action, although in 1997 he spent six months in Bosnia. The worst was over by then, but he still could have lost his life or had it ruined in one way or another. He seldom talks about those months, but on his return he made a comment that has never left me: ‘This is never going to be sorted out, Mum, because the whole set-up is tribal, and the Powers don’t seem to understand that.’

But here we are on the warpath yet again: allied forces have taken to the skies in an attempt to destroy IS, the Islamic State, and there is increasing pressure to have, as the military is fond of saying, boots on the ground. Lord Richards, recently retired as Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff, is in favour of said boots, but also says ‘you don’t do wars unless you really have to.’ 

History, however, is full of wars that could have been avoided. World War One is a dreadful example of a great mistake that should never have been made, and many experts argue forcefully that it is not yet over: modern Iraq (more irony) was created as a result of the Ottoman defeat in 1917, created by Western powers who had little regard for tribal loyalties or traditional territories, and still less understanding of the prevailing mindset or emotional environment. Not a lot has changed.

Lord Richards says we cannot destroy IS, but he thinks we can defeat it. The question is: How?  There is a knee-jerk reaction, it seems to me, in favour of violence and war, and they both beget more of the same. Henry Reynolds has recently written that Australians are obsessed with war, and yesterday I read that whereas British PM David Cameron at least debated the whole matter in Parliament, Tony Abbott did not, but committed eight Super-Hornets to the rather dubious cause: whatever Super Hornets are, precisely, and whatever the cause is.  The arms merchants must be laughing all the way to their banks. Again. 

When very young, I had to teach Robert Ardrey’s book The Territorial Imperative, first published in 1966. Its message made a lot of sense to me then, and it still does. It is an investigation into the animal origins of property, the human tendency to be territorial, and the way in which, having secured territory, we then do our best to defend it. Ardrey sympathised with the Zionist cause, but strenuously made the point that without the pressure of the Arab League, Israel was almost sure to implode.

In all this worry about IS, few people in power seem to be heeding the advice of American Chelsea Manning. The former Bradley Manning was an all-source analyst of intelligence in Iraq, and is now serving 35 years in a U.S. military prison because of his whistle-blowing activities. In a recent article, Manning echoes and repeats Ardrey’s message: the idea is not to react, not to be caught in a repetitive cycle of attack and response. Instead, Manning outlines various strategies that could result in IS becoming a failed state, one that is unpopular and unable to govern: it might thus fracture internally.

Manning suggests that the world needs to be disciplined enough to let the IS fire die out on its own. General bravery and the desire for peace are also necessary. Here’s hoping: I think and pray for all the women who, like me, simply want their descendants to live and thrive. In peace.

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras latest book, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website.

Peace sign image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, IS, terrorism, pacifism, Chelsea Manning, Bradley Manning



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Existing comments

Well said Gillian. Most mothers of sons feel the same in regard to their sons and grandsons.

Noeline Champion | 02 October 2014  

Gillian's son is right - ‘This is never going to be sorted out, Mum, because the whole set-up is tribal, and the Powers don’t seem to understand that.’ - It frightens me how keen young countries are to come out punching. On the other hand it is difficult to see how such a fragmented organisation can control their adherents. We need prayer for peace and reason to prevail.

Margaret McDonald | 02 October 2014  

Thank you, Gillian! Your thoughtful approach, your son's reflection and Chelsea Manning's wisdom are very helpful as we reflect and pray.

Joan McRae | 02 October 2014  

Interesting that all your comments so far are from women. We do seem more likely to seek alternative solutions to problems of aggression rather than going into battle against an obvious transgressor. Is Mo Moylan still alive. She achieved such greatness managing a tribal war. We need to call upon 'statespeople' of such eminence and experience to advise us rather than the military. Thank you Gillian

Ann Troup | 02 October 2014  

"I used to style myself a pacifist." Pacifism is an ideal. Everyone would prefer to live in peaceful prosperity. But reality can sometimes compel us to struggle or even fight to achieve this..... "Territorial Imperative"... is an investigation into the animal origins of property, the human tendency to be territorial". A compounding solipsistic tendency from the same source can lead us to see things only from 'our' point of view, and disregard others. This was reflected in teaching of the Church in the not-so-distant past, that outside the Church there is no redemption. Such convictions can lead to conflicts and even wars. Only when we ALL learn to respect and cooperate with ALL others can we hope for Peace and Prosperity.

Robert Liddy | 02 October 2014  

"Violence is not overcome with violence, but by forbearance." -St John Chrysostom

walter p komarnicki | 02 October 2014  

Entirely with you Gillian in this opinion piece on IS. In an exhibition on The Great War I saw just two days ago at the NY Public Library I noted especially one piece on the employment of propaganda during that war - which perfectly echoes that in use in Australia right now: (a) Demonizing the enemy; (b) Whipping up fear and hysteria; (c) Instilling guilt; (d) Asserting authority; and (e) appealing to patriotic obligation. I thought: Yes, check to all of those in far off Australia to the current IS concerns. Abbott and his LNP govt have dog-whistle demonised the entire (and diverse) Muslim community in Australia; they have "permitted" the unstable crazies in our society to attack people and buildings/cars - this always happens with this kind of signalling - with impunity; the guilt is imputed to that singled out supposed fifth column in our midst; authority is imposed - secrecy and draconian laws of non-disclosure and imprisonment are set in place; and it's an "us" against "them"/ - the laughable (if only it were so) "Team Australia" versus "the other". It's not unlike the context of Jews (secular, mostly) in Nazi 1930s Germany!

Jim KABLE | 02 October 2014  

I believe during WW1 they used to ask conscientious objectors what they would do if their wife or mother were threatened. We are I believe hard wired for aggression but also for compassion and altruism. Sometimes it really is a matter of situation ethics. There is no facile answer.

Edward Fido | 04 October 2014  

I enjoy all of your contributions to ES, Gillian. I just wanted to assure you that having predictable human reactions to dangerous situations does not disqualify you as a pacifist. This question of what you might do if someone threatened your child is the very question that militarists aim at pacifists. They do not seem to understand that pacifism is a rational choice taken to prefer a nonviolent solution to problems. As far as I can discern, the way of nonviolence has never been given a chance. What we might do with the millions of dollars being chewed up and, arguably wasted in the current mess, eh?

tony | 05 October 2014  

If only the warmongers would listen to the women. Well done Gillian in getting to the heart of the matter in your hope for peace.

Maggie | 06 October 2014  

A thought provoking article. Standing back and letting the fire die out on its own? 1 million died in Rwanda in 100 days when the international community stood back.

Julia Adamson | 07 October 2014  

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