The Common Good

Here We Go Again?

marekuliasz /
Cycle of violence, marekuliasz /

Joe Scarborough said what a lot of Americans are thinking as they watch anti-American protests and embassy attacks in many places across the Muslim world. 

"You know why they hate us? They hate us because of their religion, they hate us because of their culture, and they hate us because of peer pressure," Scarborough said on the  MSNBC program "Mornin Joe" on Sept. 17.

"And you talk to any intelligence person, they will tell you that's the same thing, and all those people who think we're going to go over there and change them are just naive. ... They hate us because of waterboarding? No they don't. They hate us because they hate us. They hate us because of Obama's drone attacks? No they don't. They hate us because they hate us."

Now Joe would be the first to admit that “they hate us because they hate us” is ... somewhat lacking in analytical depth. But it’s even worse than that. It is a foolish step down an oil-slick slope into a deep, old rut that runs in a vicious, dangerous circle.

Here’s how the cycle works.

Level 1: A commits an offense against B. B is outraged. B retaliates with an offense against A.

Level 2: A is outraged even more. A retaliates with a more egregious offense against B. B is outraged even more.

Level 3: B retaliates with a more egregious offense against A. A is still more outraged. A doubles down on revenge.

Level 4: And so on. And so on.

The average Joe frequently fails to realize three simple facts about this tragic cycle of offense, outrage, and revenge:

1. If you come in at Level 5 or 50 or 501, you can easily fail to see that their most recent outrage had a backstory in which your country, your religion, or your economic system committed outrages of its own.

2. If you refuse to see that backstory or if you discount it as insignificant, you can easily disregard “them” as haters, insane, inferior ... maybe even subhuman. And you can easily render yourself a completely innocent victim.

3. If you do that, you’re setting yourself up for even more egregious outrages in the future.

In my new book, "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?," I explore the religious roots of hostility and violence. I reference a brilliant TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie, where she quotes Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti: If you want to dispossess a people, she explained, all you need to do is tell their story, but start with “secondly."

Adichie continues, “Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.”

In other words, do what Joe did: ignore the backstory behind the latest outrageous behavior of “them.”

If we have the courage and wisdom to learn the backstory — ours and theirs — we can begin to transcend the vicious cycles in which we are now stuck, spinning.

Brian D. McLaren is the author of "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World."  Visit him online at Via RNS.

Cycle of Violence, marekuliasz /


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