The bloody madness in Baghdad and the violence of Israel's response to the calculated provocation of Hezbullah, Hamas and other resistance groups in the Gaza strip and Lebanon can only accelerate the continuing cycle of violence that characterize the Middle East. Many ascribe this plague to the interference of America and other western powers and no doubt power politics and other international rivalries have played an important role.

But underneath it all I think there is something else something that has to do with the culture of the Middle East to begin with. It is something that I sensed within just a few weeks after beginning a semester of studies at the Ecumenical Institute of Advanced Theological Studies near Jerusalem back in 1981. Along with the immense burden of history, which seemed to ooze from the ancient stones many of them "recycled" from the ruins of destroyed civilizations was an all-pervasive atmosphere of lasting hate and vindictiveness. No wrong, however ancient, seemed to be forgotten much less be forgiven. It appeared to be a point of honor, as much as possible, to make children suffer for their forefathers' sins.

For a part of the world that has seen the rise and fall or succession of one civilization or dynasty after another, this persistence of what still amounts to stone age morality of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" amounts to a sure recipe for disaster, especially in the nuclear age. But even in an era of ubiquitous small arms, improvised rockets and roadside bombs, it remains a zero-sum game. Everyone loses in the end.

It was only with this background that I came back home with a new appreciation of the revolutionary breakthrough in morality that the teachings of Jesus might mean for the world. But it was also tempered with a sadness over America -- which so many think of as a "Christian" nation and its contributions to this spiral of violence. I only too well remember the times I was stopped on a street in Bethlehem, or while riding on buses, by Israeli soldiers carrying US-supplied M-16 assault rifles, or watched US-built F-16s flying from Galilee to bomb Palestinian refugees in Lebanon . Yet when I was harassed by a group of young Palestinian boys on the south side of JerusalemI probably looked Jewish to themthe best they could do was toss a few rocks. Twenty years later, although I was, like everyone else, shocked on 9-11, I was not at all surprised, especially by the feelings expressed in some quarters in of the Middle East. They saw it as long overdue retaliation for what had been, for year after year, done to them.

Certainly there has to be a better way. Jesus and those who would follow him in "turning the other cheek" have been ridiculed as idealists. But as any psychologist can tell you, bearing patiently the outrage expressed by others is the necessary first step towards calming any tense situation. Only then can grievances or past wrongs be intelligently addressed. Fighting fire with fire ends up consuming everything within reach. So while retribution may seem like the only thing that is "fair", it only fuels a recycling of violence in which both sides end up equally ruined or dead.

R W Kropf 7/18/06

Retaliat.mss (545 words) 06-07-18.html