Seeking Common Ground

Four years ago, when the new millennium began, our future seemed challenging but also promising. In 2001, the events of September 11 cast a pall that has yet to lift. We’ve been plunged into a global war on terrorism that has permeated our everyday lives to an extraordinary degree. The immediate search for Osama bin Laden has morphed into a quest to bring imposed "democracy" to the greatly oppressed people of Iraq. Since that war began early last year, more than 60 people have died each month fighting for the U.S. in the name of freedom, and the numbers are escalating. Even more Iraqis have died. But true freedom has not come to Iraq, despite the terrible sacrifice made by so many. Here in the U.S. freedom is quietly slipping away under the rubric of homeland security.

As I write, e-mail messages have begun arriving, telling of the terrible confrontation between 2,500 police and other law enforcement officers and thousands of essentially nonviolent protestors in Miami during the recent FTAA (Free-Trade Area of the Americas) meeting. It has become commonplace, since the protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999, for cities to prepare their police departments for potential riots during large or controversial gatherings. In November in Miami, that became an open war on dissent, according to numerous independent journalists. What struck them was how divorced police behavior was from any threatening behavior on the part of protestors. Nonviolent protestors were beaten, shot at with pellets and pepper spray, tear-gassed, arrested, or forced to flee. Many dozens were injured; a dozen were hospitalized. Hundreds were arrested. Ominously, much of the money spent on the intense militarization of Miami’s police force in preparation for this—including full riot gear, aerial surveillance, armored vehicles, and a press corps officially "embedded" with the police—came from an $8.5 million rider tacked onto the $87 billion spending bill for the war in Iraq. "This should be a model for homeland defense," Miami Mayor Manny Diaz was quoted as saying proudly.

In this issue, we take up the difficult issue of truth-telling as a key component to peacemaking. "We must understand that what any one of us perceives to be the truth is refracted by our experience, our perspective, and by what we have been taught to see," writes Paul Lacey in "Making Peace: Telling Truth" (p.6). As Friends, our traditional task has not been partisan, but rather to seek that of God within all. That Light is within Miami policemen, combatants in Iraq, members of our administration who clearly believe that a military response is appropriate and needed in these times. In "With Malice toward None, Charity toward All" (p.12), Anna Poplawska reminds us that our hearts must remain open to our shared humanity with those whose acts are repugnant to us. As peacemakers, we dare not indulge in "hunkering down in [our] ideological enclave and refusing to engage with the truth-claims of others," as Paul Lacey says. Nor should we be shy of naming what in all humility we perceive. John Woolman, who labored so carefully with those with whom he disagreed so completely, could be our guide. Perhaps the starting point in the incredibly important journey toward bringing peace in our time is to seek and find the common ground on which we all can stand.