Imagine Peace: Pilot to Bombardier
A peace activist in San Jose, Calif., said to me yesterday that her life had become ridiculously hectic. That's no surprise considering that the rat-race affects us all whether or not we are willing contestants. But with reference to her perceptions on activism, she noted that people are just not used to protesting against two wars at the same time.
I agree. And strangely enough, these sorts of thoughts were in my head a week ago when I went for some dental work. Don't ask my why thoughts of war and peace were on my mind then; maybe trips to the dentist do that to a person.
My dentist, a U.S. Navy veteran like myself, referred to current times as "evil."
"People always think of the military as pushing for war," he said. "But what people don't realize is that most of the people in military service don't want war either. It's the politicians that need to be brought under control."
As I sat in the chair listening to my dentist, I was wishing that I had done a better job of preventing tooth decay and the drilling that follows it. Nevertheless, I was glad to hear him confirm, in some way, sentiments I have and have written about on that very same subject.
I wasn't surprised at my dentist's opinions, however, because we often discuss world and military affairs, and we tend to have similar perspectives. "I have to laugh when people talk about 'smart bombs,'" he continued. "There's no such thing as a 'smart bomb.' If the politicians who run this country had had any military experience they would have known beforehand that bombs always end up landing in the wrong places." Then he added almost sadly that the ugly proliferation of military violence around the world today may actually be no worse than it was for Native Americans and other indigenous peoples when their lands were being "discovered" and settled by colonists under military protection.
So in addition to relief from tooth decay, I was also getting a free morale boost. And what was more satisfying was that my dentist was not familiar with prior writing on the subject, so I knew his take on the matter was coming uninfluenced by his perception of me or of issues tackled each week in this column.
In addition to all this, my triple heritage of African ancestry, Abrahamic faith and Western cultural domination - as defined by Ali Mazrui in The Africans - was also enjoying temporary relief from the bad vibes I have been feeling as a result of a few years worth of U.S. weaponry taking Muslim lives.
It was reassuring to hear my own strong opinions expressed by another veteran who shared neither my African ancestry nor my Islamic faith. The general thrust of Western mass media would make such discussions seem unusual. But I know from experience that they are not.
As I was leaving the dentist's office, I went into stream of consciousness mode. My mind wandered back to a terribly sad story that had been told to me by a delightful young Muslim woman from the East African island of Zanzibar. She and her husband were hosting a dinner for several families and while entertaining their guests, the story came out matter of factly during a videotape presentation of their traditional wedding ceremony.
She told us that it is not unusual for Muslim men from Yemen to marry women from Zanzibar just prior to the Ramadan month of fasting and purification, and then to divorce their new brides at the conclusion of the month. Her husband explained that since sexual intercourse is not allowed during the daily fast of Ramadan, these men merely wanted someone to break their fast with in the evening.
Upon first hearing this story, I found it inconceivable that anyone could be so callous as to purposely destroy another person's life for a month of pleasure under the guise of religion. As a result, it is not unusual for these young women (we're talking about teenagers here) to be pulled out of school with no hope of return, particularly if they become pregnant. And then, since many Muslim cultures consider previously married women unmarriageable (despite the fact that this contradicts the Islamic tenants that these same Muslims claim to follow) these women are likely to spend the rest of their lives alone. And unfortunately, the lure of a high bride price (we're talking a dowry of few hundred dollars here) in the poor Zanzibar economy, can significantly lower family vigilance against such abuses.
On hearing this, the Western side of my triple heritage was preparing to bomb Yemen. That part of me was already suited up and heading for the airplane. To make matters worse, the African in me was already sitting in the bombardier seat, waiting furiously for takeoff. The Muslim in me was sorely tempted to join this jihad as well, but was compelled to point out that bombing is not an effective method for cleansing diseased hearts and minds, even the severely diseased hearts and minds of the Yemenis about which I was told. Thankfully, it was the Muslim part of my heritage that won out.
A military solution would have been no more effective than my dentist trying to repair my teeth by slamming me in the head with a baseball bat. As a matter of fact, the resulting widespread damage to healthy organs and tissue would make the rest of me much more susceptible to widespread and possibly fatal decay. So rather than worsen the plague that these few unscrupulous Yemenis already bring upon the decent men, women and children of their country, the Westerner and African in me climbed back down out of the cockpit of our imaginary bomber.
So is there nothing we can do to help? Sure there is. The Muslim woman's husband is an American of European heritage who had chosen to serve his country in the Peace Corps instead of the armed services. In fact, while volunteering in Zanzibar he fell so in love with this woman that he married her and immersed himself in her culture. The two of them are in the United States now acquiring educational skills and credentials that will enable them to return and be of greater service to people in Zanzibar.
Last Friday, President Clinton signed a bill to increase the Peace Corps budget by 50 percent over the next four years and to increase the number of volunteers to 10,000. This is a very small step in the right direction.
Unlike the U.S. military, the U.S. Peace Corps seldom makes headlines. It doesn't consume a major portion of the U.S. budget or aggressively recruit people in the hope that they will make the Peace Corps a career. But maybe it ought to.
Ibn Musa directs the Imagine Peace Project at http://www.imaginepeace.org.
Copyright 1999 Ibn Musa