Violent past demands a nonviolent future

By William Goss June 13th, 2010

At the tail end of last month, I left my teenage self and took a step into my 20s. I have the same birthday as Clint Eastwood, a man whose movies usually involve violence, and this year I also shared it with Memorial Day.

Memorial Day originally was established to honor the fallen soldiers of the Union army, and later changed to honor all American soldiers who have died in battle. However, I found it a bit humorous that my great-great-grandfather (my namesake) fought as a Confederate soldier and that I am also related to Ulysses S. Grant.

When my great-great-grandfather was captured for the third time by the Union army, instead of turning and fighting against his compatriots of the South, he was forced to go out West to fight Native Americans. In my family's history and our nation's history, war and violence has influenced us all, and sometimes from different sides in the same family.

It is hard to fathom the violence people have committed against each other over the years. At times it is even harder to explain why we still live in a violent world, and to comprehend the gravity of the violent actions we see perpetrated in too many countries.

The most serious act of violence that made me face the violent world we live in occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. I was still in grade school, but that horrible day was etched in my memory, and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still exist and affect us all. When I was a junior in high school, I became informed about the genocide in Sudan, and that again opened my eyes to how violent and unsafe it can be to be born into this world.

The next year, I became aware, in my journalism class, of modern-day slavery and human trafficking. I also observed the court case Corrie v. Caterpillar. Rachel Corrie was a 23-year-old American student and peace activist trying to protect a Palestinian home when she was brutally murdered by an Israeli soldier driving an American-made tractor.

The most recent violence that has demanded my attention occurred on my birthday as well, resulting in the deaths of nine people trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is almost a century old. Countless lives have been lost. Has violence brought us any closer to resolving the conflict? No.

There are many people and organizations that are engaged in nonviolent solutions. A Muslim Israeli named Forsan Hussein, dubbed the "Israeli Obama," is running the YMCA in Jerusalem, where he is bringing people from different religions and ethnicities together. His multicultural community-building efforts are attracting international acclaim and funding. The YMCA hotel has become a desired destination and calling card for international travelers and diplomats. It also contains a preschool that enrolls 120 children from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, which fosters coexistence and promotes the development of tolerance and understanding.

Another noteworthy organization that is making progress in teaching nonviolence to young people is the Peace Camp Initiative, which has hosted camps for kids throughout the world. Their philosophy centers on moral, social and physical development, and includes teaching respect for the environment. Manar Azreik, a founding influence of the Peace Camp Initiative, recently spoke at UC Davis.

Manar is a Palestinian Christian, a past seven-time Israeli national judo champion, a Waldorf-trained teacher, a certified conflict resolution facilitator, and has helped lead peace camps in Israel, Canada and here in California.

Manar and Forsan are examples of many people in the Middle East who see religious and ethnic diversity as a strength and not a distinction to fight over. Their nonviolent actions build bridges between people in great need of inspiration, opportunity and hope.

We all have the right to live an enjoyable life. As the preamble to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, "… (R)ecognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." These words and the actions required to implement them need to be read and applied to everyone, even those who are not formally or fully represented today by the United Nations.

Our actions have consequences. We can choose to live a life that involves violence against one another and against this earth, or we can work together to create nonviolent solutions. For my part, I plan to establish a peace group at UC Davis to open a dialogue with my peers from diverse backgrounds of experience, opinion and belief. We can educate each other to better understand why there is violence in the world in order to put an end to its destructive cycle.

As Mahatma Gandhi has said, "We may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress toward it."

— William Goss is a UC Davis student and member of the Davis Peace Coalition. Students interested in joining a peace group may contact him at wLgoss@ucdavis.edu