Speech from the Nonviolence March and Peace Rally @ Curry College

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Had a great night tonight at a Nonviolence March/Peace Rally. I don’t typically post my speeches, mostly because they are written to be spoken and not typically formatted very well for reading. However, this is a topic that I am growing more and more passionate about and, well, I can’t pass up the chance to share!

Peace and violence. In our world today, they seem to be inextricably linked. Peace and violence.

This past January I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Rwanda where I have learned and continue to learn a thing or two about both. It is a country that has been totally decimated by violence. In 1994 it is estimated that one million people were killed in just 100 days – one of the most intense genocides in history.

I recall, the moment I stood outside of the Murambi Genocide Memorial in Rwanda. As I stood at the entrance looking all around – the scene was remarkable. Panoramic hills all around me – the most incredible landscape I’d ever seen. It was to be the site of a new school, under construction in 1994, when 50,000 people took shelter during the genocide. One of my Rwandan friends explained to me that the killers released nearby prisoners and together they brutally killed all fifty thousand people. In the very spot where I now stood. And as we walked in to building after building, we saw their bodies –their faces staring back at us, preserved in time. Hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds. Hands clenched in prayer, small children, pregnant mothers. All of them slaughtered.

And at that moment, I remember not being able to feel anything. I was totally overwhelmed. All I could think is – how did this happen? How are people capable of this kind of terror?

But I had to stop myself. Because it’s so easy to separate ourselves from that. So easy to point a finger and call those people evil. It’s much harder to look at our own actions. How we ignored these deaths in 1994. How we allowed genocide to occur—even after the world said never again.

It’s hard to take an honest look at how we, today, can justify killing thousands of people based on some notion of “greater good”. History has shown that we’ve been able to look through that same lens that allowed the killing in Rwanda to occur. We are able to look through a lens that views other people as having less worth than our selves. We are able to justify time and time again, war for the sake of peace. War for the sake of our security. War for the sake of oil. War for the sake of our own interests. We view violence as a means to a certain end. When the reality is that violence is an end in of itself. And it will be the end of us.

Time and time again we are told the same thing: 30,000 more troops. 18 more months. 30 billion more dollars. More bombs, more soldiers, more weapons, more blood, more dead sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, more dead brothers and sisters, more dead children who never asked to be part of this. Only then we will have peace—so the story goes.

5,978; that is the estimate of civilian casualties in Afghanistan just last year. Civilian casualties – a euphemism that allows us to look through that dangerous lens. 5,978 human beings – people equal to you and me, who also wanted peace.

There are those who say that we need violence in the world. Peace can only be secured through violence. That it is idealistic and unrealistic to believe otherwise. Over the years, the more I learn about our world, the more I have come to see the utter contradiction in those words and the more I have come to reject that notion. Here is why: we have models in history who have proved that theory wrong, over and over again. They have proved not a silent, pacifying alternative to violence, but instead an active, counter-cultural, radical non-violence. Mahatma Ghandi, Dorothy Day, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Mother Theresa, and Dr. Martin Luther King. These are just a few of those people in our history who have set examples and who have shown us the power of nonviolence. Dr. King said that “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

These great men and women are quoted often, held high among our idols. And yet, we consistently ignore what they stood for. What they died for. Today let us not ignore or forget. Let us all be as clear as they were:

There is no ‘good’ form of violence. There is no ‘just’ application of violence and there is no ‘right’ use of violence. All forms of violence—all forms of violence—are wrong. Peace will never be secured through violence.

One of the most inspiring parts of visiting Rwanda was talking to the youth there—people our age and even younger, who are committed to moving their country forward. And they know violence is not the way forward. They want to break that chain.

It is hard work and there is much work to be done. But here is an example: right now over a billion people don’t have access to clean water. Children die every day from dehydration–simply because they don’t have clean water. Less than five days of global military spending—less than five days–could provide everyone in the world with access to clean water. Imagine the good that would do. Imagine the lives saved?

And we have another example here at Curry, a new organization has just begun; Help Women Heal. With the goal of raising money to send two women from Afghanistan to school to become doctors. How’s that for an alternative to dropping bombs?

I urge you today, to see the power of rejecting violence as a tool in the world, to see the positive impact we can have in the world.

Peace and violence. The truth is, they are mutually exclusive. An enduring peace will only come when we totally, absolutely, finally reject all forms of violence.



Author: John Abdulla

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