Opinion: Thoughts on Conflicts in Amherst and Abroad


Gaza destruction. Photo: gloucester2gaza / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

The following column appeared previously in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Freedom without responsibilities is anarchy.

John Varner

Sadly, Amherst has been getting repeated lessons that illustrate this maxim.  The most recent incident: Town Council’s attempt on March 4 to get involved in global politics by passing a resolution on the horrendous situation unfolding in Gaza.  Freedom of speech degenerated into a chaotic shouting frenzy where much was said and little was heard. 

Amherst has a history of expressing official town positions on issues over which it has no control.  This is commendable, and many issues Amherst has taken on are vitally important.   However, it might behoove the town to establish some forum outside Town Council to debate and pass resolutions on issues not directly related to running the town.  Having town-wide meetings on such issues, where opinions are expressed, debated and voted on to send a message about where Amherst’s majority stands is more than appropriate.  That said, Town Council is already overburdened.  Saddling it with debates on extraneous resolutions dealing with national or international issues only makes the town less able to govern itself and deal with pressing budgetary and development issues that are directly impacting its functioning and its future.  Let’s have debate, Let’s pass resolutions.  Let’s do it outside of Town Council.

Jumping from the frying pan into the fire, it seems cowardly to bring up the recent March 4 Town Meeting fracas without getting into the context od Mid-East politics. 

History is replete with political leaders cynically using religion to goad followers into action, including here in America.  It is taken to apocalyptic heights in the Mid-East.  The fact that the Abrahamic religions share the same roots makes the situation ironic.  At the base of the problem is the irreconcilable belief that God promised the same land to different groups.  Complicating this are the codices of the Old Testament, the bedrock of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  Modern sensibilities have impelled most citizens to choose codes – which rules to follow and which to ignore – shaped by current concepts of fairness, equality, and justice.  Tragically, fundamentalists are not “most people”, but they are ruling the day in the Eastern Mediterranean, and dragging everyone else into their Armageddon.

Let’s leave aside the question of which God gave what to whom.  The question has bedeviled the Middle East for a few thousand years.  The opposing claimants would do well to remember that this real estate conflict was initiated in the same scriptures that proclaim that the universe was created in six days 6000 years ago, Eve was molded from Adam’s rib, Noah packed every specie on Earth onto his ark, etc.  Reading the passages from Exodus on Biblical justice are equally problematic…..

Exodus 21:23-24 figures prominently in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “:….if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, …….”  Advocates of non-violence from Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. have pointed out that, ““An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”.  Jesus went further, suggesting we “turn the other cheek”.  Even for adherents to the eye-for-an-eye code, it’s an eye for eye, not the ten or twenty eyes for an eye the world is witnessing in Gaza, a situation made even more horrible by the fact the vast majority of the dead on both sides are innocent civilians.

The “eye for an eye” verses immediately follow a repugnant passage on the propriety of and the extent to which one should beat one’s slaves (Exodus 21:20-21).  Several other verses from Exodus 21 delve further into “justice”.

Exodus 21:14:  “…if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be… put to death.”

Exodus 21:16: “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death ……”

It is unclear how this harsh, retributive approach to justice squares with another edict, conveniently forgotten in the current conflict:

Exodus 21:18-19:  “If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, ……… the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.”

How does the war in Gaza end?  It will take magnanimous, courageous leadership on both sides standing fast against a lust for vengeance that has polarized the entire world.  Will that miracle happen any time soon?  No.  Peace will require time, hard work, commitment, forgiveness.  This conflict has pit Jews against Palestinians, and Jewish fundamentalists against secular Jews.  It threatens a wider war in which allies of all sides are pulled into a torrent of death and destruction.  How to transmute all the terror, blood and suffering into peace and reconciliation seems beyond mortals’ ken.  Ultimately, it will not be military force, or diplomats’ reasoning, but millions of courageous individuals trying to live by the bedrock of all religions, the Golden Rule, that must win the peace.

In the 1982 movie Gandhi, a climactic scene involves a Hindu man asking Gandhi how he should heal from the fury and agony of losing his son to a Muslim murderer.  Much to his shock and horror, he hears Gandhi’s advice:  Take in a Muslim orphan and raise that orphan to be a good Muslim.  Maybe this is what we must all do: take in the orphans of our enemies and teach them not to be us, but to be the best versions of themselves.  Perhaps then we would all truly develop enough understanding and compassion to expunge the hate.  Heaven knows there are orphans enough to work with. 

John Varner is a resident of Amherst’s District 3.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

The Amherst Indy welcomes your comment on this article. Comments must be signed with your real, full name & contact information; and must be factual and civil. See the Indy comment policy for more information.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.