We've been educated to believe that our human minds are predisposed to perceive the other as a threat and as a target for extirpation, if not extinction. Just look at what ants do--they go to war. Look at what chimps do--they kill a chimp who is not a member of the troop and who unfortunately wanders into a troop's turf. Look at what human clans do--they mark boundaries and woe to those who violate them. Dehumanizing, objectifying, enmifying and driving out others is only natural and we cannot rewire humans to be different, so our preparations for war are prudent and our acts of war are just natural and immutably human, a permanent part of our condition.
Or, could it be, that such characteristics are only tendencies and not inevitabilities? Could it be that our leaders manipulate us into war preparation and wars in order to gain and maintain their power, their status as conflict leaders, and the profits and perquisites for their elite colleagues?
“One important way that structures and agents interact in violence construction is that political elites use the grievances generated by existing structural conditions—such as poverty, unemployment, discrimination, corruption and state incapacity—to inflame and manipulate identities and perceptions of threat and victimhood, thereby laying the foundation for legitimizing violent retaliation” (Jackson, 2009, p. 179).
Richard Jackson is a political scientist who teaches International Politics at Aberystwyth University, UK.
He edits the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism and has been writing about the relationship of language and the manufacture of enemies by religion, class, nationality, ethnicity and other identity markers. We humans are indeed susceptible to this assembly and construction of a threat, with just enough justification to permit us to fall into a vast pool of manipulation.
Our leaders do this. Their leaders do this. So how does nonviolence respond?
We blog. We teach. We write letters to the editors. We start dialog projects with those who have been swept into the constructed enemy classification. We refuse to support leaders who participate in this construction. We commit acts of random and sensible nonviolence, compassion and kindness to the enemy. We introduce members of the enemy to members of our own clan. We foster friendship. We are never silent and we resist the objectification of others. When we see Muslims all swept into a group and labeled terrorist we speak out, we deconstruct that construction and we challenge it. When a Muslim spokesperson does that to us, we challenge that too--not only is Osama bin Laden not qualified to speak for all Muslims, he makes sweeping generalizations about all others that cannot stand.
We anticipate these acts of predictable construction and we prophylactically speak and write in warning and opposition to the warring outcomes that are being manufactured. We acknowledge how seductive the demagogues can be and we counter their information with analysis and alternatives. We key on the fear and warning about nonexistent threats, such as Dick Cheney claiming falsely that Iraq had WMD and was an imminent threat. We ask our own compatriots--or those who are being constructed as our compatriots--how it feels to be labeled, stereotyped and considered as an enemy, as a target, as a potentially legitimate casualty in someone's Just War.
In short, we take responsibility for what is being done in our names and we urge others from all sides to do the same. We stop ceding that role and task to others because they've shown they are not up to the work, and in fact they cannot do that properly for us. We become a disarmy of one, speaking cogently against violence and enemy creation wherever it rears its evil head.
Is this easy? Nope. Can we avoid it? Not if we hope to end war, and more of us have decided we do hope to end war. That starts with deconstructing the negative constructions and engaging in the construction of friends and allies and wondrous fellow humans in our rich tapestry of humankind on Earth. Each of us weaves a thread or our best intentions are never a part of it and each of us should grab a thread from the war tapestry and pull it out. We can unravel war and weave peace, but it takes our attendance and our focus.
Jackson, Richard (2009). Constructivism and conflict resolution. In Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.). The Sage handbook of conflict. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p.p. 172-189.