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Editorial October 2001
Against Terror

By Hilary Williamson

As Halloween approaches and the beginning of a long season of traditional festivities, celebration is far from our minds. Many of us are more concerned about the real monsters who may be amongst us than the usual costumed 'ghosties and ghoulies', and anything that 'goes bump in the night' is likely to arouse fear and sirens. When introspection fails, my usual approach to this kind of anxiety is to search for a book to offset it. What's available?

One that comforted me a great deal recently was An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life. It is taken from teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and edited by Nicholas Vreeland. It explains in simple terms how 'Buddhist practitioners have cultivated compassion and wisdom in their lives', important traits in times caught up in the storm of hatred and violence that recently descended upon New York City in particular and the Western world in general.

In addition to the comfort of dwelling on positive attributes of humanity, this small volume imparts wisdom about the futility of succumbing to anger and hatred, emotions that are 'the real destructive forces of the universe' and more likely to do damage to ourselves than to our enemies. It suggests taking countermeasures with a 'clear awareness of the situation and not as a result of anger' and suggests that the best way to deal with an enemy's hatred is to 'remain calm, happy and peaceful ... continue to be joyful' - relevant advice for the present situation, and the best approach to dealing with an antagonist whose goal is to disrupt that very way of life.

The Dalai Lama should know. He has seen a great deal of violence done to his own country of Tibet and its people, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his efforts on their behalf. Another great leader, who promoted the approach of passive resistance in a fight against injustice, was Mohandas Gandhi. I recently watched the movie Gandhi starring Ben Kingsley for a second time, and was prompted to delve into the writings of this other great humanitarian.

In an essay on the Ethics of Passive Resistance, he quoted Macauley who talked about 'the pacific triumphs of reason over barbarism ... the imperishable empire of our arts and our morals, our literature and our laws' but emphasized the importance of avoiding fighting the battle of truth with 'weapons of error' - an important reminder to us today, as the West fights back against a great evil. The Dalai Lama said in a 1999 address in Central Park 'Whether we are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, black or white, from the East or West, our potential is equal. We are all the same, mentally and emotionally.' All lives have equal value, not only those of people closest to us, and we must not become as careless of them as the fanatics that we face.

Many have asked why the terrorists hate us. The answer is that they do not hate us, they simply hate, and their hate is manipulated and directed by others. Intolerance is at the root of many evils, and it is important that we not allow our own fear to develop into that same, easily manipulated, anger and hatred. A book pertinent to this issue is Alison Wearing's Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey. She traveled in Iran 'because it frightens me; because it frightens the world. And because I don't believe in fear. In giving it such power'. In Iran, the author met ordinary, generous individuals who 'try to be kind'.

Both Gandhi and the Dalai Lama will be remembered as great leaders of mankind because they fought against brutal injustice without succumbing to hatred or triggering the cycles of retaliation and vengeance that have been so frequent in history. Their influence will be profound not only on their own times but on future generations worldwide. This is in contrast to the transient leaders who flare briefly on the world scene by manipulating people's worst emotions. Whether or not such leaders truly act on the conviction that injustice has been done, there are more effective ways to deal with grievances. In the words of Canada's Pierre Elliott Trudeau (referring to terrorist action in 1970 Montreal) they have 'no mandate but terror, no policies but violence, and no solutions but murder.'

So, in this season of monsters, grieve for the victims of violence, take comfort from ethical leaders of the past and present, practice tolerance and compassion, and live joyfully. That is the only way to keep the monsters out of our lives and in the shadows where they belong.
See also:
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet- dedicated to his life and work
Mohandas Gandhi - TIME Essay by Johanna McGeary

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