A few weeks ago, a visiting foreign Prime Minister addressed the US congress and ‘stirred the pot’ regarding America’s fears about Iran. The biggest concern is that Iran will build a nuclear weapon and use it against the US, Israel or another foreign ally. Since those congressional meetings, we have seen a flurry of influential people calling for action and in some cases war. One article I read (presented by a Johns Hopkins Fellow) said war with Iran ‘is probably our best option’. Really?
While this politician and scholar spoke of one kind of war, I believe they are both examples of another war that has already begun. One that many of us are participating in and may not even realize it. This war doesn’t involve guns, drones or airstrikes. Instead it is the kind of war that can reshape decades of understanding, or better stated, misunderstandings.
It starts with the Enemy Effect (the best term I could come up with) This is the process where fear leads us to dehumanize a person or group of people, which typically turns those people into at least perceived enemies. It’s like we become laser-focused on any flaws we can find, and then we elevate the significance of those flaws. And as the dehumanization process continues we often convince ourselves the perceived enemy is a real and immediate threat, further justifying any actions (even preemptive) against them. And in some cases the results can last for decades.
I encountered an example of this recently while I was reading a book about a Doctor serving during the Vietnam War. It was actually the Doctors published journal about her experiences treating the wounded during an incredibly violent time. The way she describes the people she meets, and cares for, and sometimes has to say goodbye to, was filled with a poetic Love. Her compassion and humanity were admirable to say the least. But there is a catch. She wasn’t treating the US or our allies’ soldiers; instead she was treating her countrymen the Viet Cong.
As I read along, I was finding it uncomfortable to see her simple love for others and willingness to sacrifice her safety to heal the hurting as a good thing. It was like I was rooting for the enemy or something and I almost felt ashamed. But why?
For me, her humanity was being clouded by the Enemy Effect that started decades ago, before I was even born, toward anything associated with the Viet Cong.
Another way to describe this comes from a concept introduced by Jesus of Nazareth a couple thousand years ago. He talked about the importance of seeing the log in our own eye, as opposed to focusing on the speck in our brother’s eye. Meaning we should focus on our own shortcomings, the log in our eye, instead of being so focused on the shortcomings of others, the speck. The Enemy Effect is basically the exact opposite of this.
Like with the 77 million people living in Iran. Right now it is pretty easy to find articles/podcasts/FB posts about all the perceived (and sometimes real) things that highlight their shortcomings. While at the same time, we look past some of our own significant societal issues like Ferguson, school shootings, political and judicial corruption, etc.
Instead of continuing on this path, Jesus had a very different idea of how we could treat those we considered enemies. He suggested we should pray for them, do good things to them and give to them without asking for anything in return. Can you imagine what American/Iranian relations would look like if people, regardless of backgrounds, chose this as an approach?
Either way, the war that I speak of seems to be well under way. From politicians who are spreading a message of fear, to the scholarly authors suggesting war is the best solution.
If we stay this course, I wonder if there will be a generation or two down the road battling the gaps of misunderstanding that we create today? Or will we choose a different way, a path toward understanding each other, even Loving each other as neighbors. A way that prevents the Enemy Effect from captivating our culture for decades to come.