"White Hands for Peace" Demonstration - Madrid, 2004
Sunday morning at Mass I was still ruminating over the previous post and the lively discussion it provoked, when I was hit straight in the chops with the day's Gospel reading, like manna from heaven...
Jesus said to his disciples:
“To you who hear I say,
love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do the same.
If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners,
and get back the same amount.
But rather, love your enemies and do good to them,
and lend expecting nothing back;
then your reward will be great
and you will be children of the Most High,
for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give, and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”
Christ didn't expect that everyone who heard Him was going to follow Him, but that those whom He called would be recognizable in how radically different their behavior was going to be. As Christians, if we wish to be taken serious by anyone else as such, the tit-for-tat cycle of offense, recrimination, retaliation, and retribution that we find in the world all around us is not supposed to be the way for us. As supposed Leaven, Salt of the Earth, Light on a Hill, etc..., we have to be the ones that break the chains that bind together the logic of escalation and violence, or presumably no one else will.
At any rate, the previous post was really over a minor matter in the grander scheme of things. This past week I was reminded that we are coming up on the third annivesary of the Madrid Train Bombings, and that the trial of the 29 surviving co-conspirators in the plot is now underway.
The bombing occurred on March 11, 2004, and when it happened I was as shocked and horrified as anyone else, and concerned about my friends in Madrid. I was also very interested in seeing how Spain was going to react to it, knowing how fiercely the Spanish had been opposed to the sending of troops to Iraq in support of the Coalition effort in 2003. The bombings occurred just a few days before the national elections, and Aznar's Conservative government bungled badly by initially pointing the accusing finger towards the Basque separatist group ETA. Huge crowds took to the street in Spain, over 11 million people, representing more than 1 out of every 4 people in the country, expressing sorrow and solidarity with the victims, and peaceful defiance in the face of terrorism. When news came out a day or two later that a Moroccan cell suspected of Al Qaeda ties was most likely behind the attack, a popular wave of anger swept aside Aznar and brought Zapatero's Socialist Party back into power.
Needless to say, with the Socialists back in charge, the Spanish troops were soon recalled from Iraq. I remember thinking at the time that in doing so, that the Spanish government might have just signed a death warrant for residents of Rome, London, and Warsaw, as terror attacks were likely to occur in those cities in order to force America's other partners out of the coalition too. Sure enough, in July of 2005, train bombings occurred in London as well. (Note: In all fairness, as author Tom Ricks has pointed out, Spain signed onto a peacekeeping mission, not a combat mission, which it clearly had turned out to be by 2004)
What struck me in particular, however, was the unequivocal, broadly supported, and unhesitant determination of the Spanish people to respond with a sense of defiant nonviolence. Rather than seeing the necessity of binding themseves closer to Americans and our approach in exacting justice through the use of force, as one might expect, they seemed as a nation to embrace the principles of nonviolence in perfect lockstep. In their huge street demonstrations and memorial services, they took to holding up their white-painted hands ("manos blancas"), and slogans like "Basta Ya" ("Enough Already"). The Spanish of course, with their long years of having to deal with ETA, were already well-familiarized with terrorism, and the Manos Blancas movement had actually come out of that experience...
The “white hands” (“manos blancas”) symbol did in fact originate in Spain, when students in Madrid used it in 1996 as a sign of innocence and of their revulsion at the murder, by the ETA terrorist group, of Francisco Tomás y Valiente, Professor of Law at the city’s Universidad Autónoma. Since then it has been used in numerous demonstrations, mainly against ETA. It was later associated with the “Spirit of Ermua” - the resounding “Enough is enough” response by Spanish society to the cold-blooded murder of Ermua Councillor Miguel Angel Blanco in July 1997. There is now also an association, the Asociación Manos Blancas, which gives awards to those who are outstanding in their defence of the principles of freedom.
Why was their reaction so different from ours? Is it because of their history, that still holds the bitter memories of a fairly recent Civil war? Is it because they were used to terrorism? Is it the fact that we felt that the oceans and our huge defense budgets made us invulnerable? Does our superpower status make us feel like we have something more vested in protecting? Is it lazy, effete, comfortable, decadent, Western European affluence that doesn't want to be disturbed... or is it something more principled?
The Church never tires of lamenting over Europe... for it's loss of faith, it's relativism, it's consumerism, it's loss of its sense of roots, it's failure to protect the family, it's aging population, etc... What I find interesting in this case was the way that the Spanish manifested their faith, the Christianity that lay latent within them, in a way that I suspect Christ would have approved of, and should have made the Church proud of them. As far as I could tell, it was not really a Church-directed movement. It wasn't papal exhortations, bishop's statements, or Church organizations that drove it. This is something that has come into the collective continental European soul, and I'm not sure of the origin. I don't know if it is a secular post-modern thing, or if it is a vaguely Christian, eastern Buddhist influenced ethos or what, but somehow in its manifestation, it is an entirely biblical, Christian response.
I remember how my friends and I snickered and laughed at Richard Gere when he stood before the memorial service for the fallen firefighters of 9/11 and was heckled when he said:
"The horrendous energy that we’re all feeling, and the possibility of turning it into more violence, and revenge, we can stop that. We can take that energy and turn it into something else. We can turn it into compassion, and to love, and to understanding."
"That’s apparently unpopular right now, but that’s alright."
Interesting. In this nation, in which we supposedly take our faith so much more seriously, in this Godly nation, we laughed at him. Over there, they would not have.
Not that there isn't plenty of criticism leveled at the Spanish for their stance. London was bombed, and ETA has apparently called off their cease-fire, so nonviolence continues to be challenged and questioned by pragmatists and hard-headed realists. The British didn't react quite like us, but certainly not like the Spanish either.
The Brussels Journal noted the words of French writer Pascal Bruckner in comparing the reactions between Spain and Britain to being bombed:
Together with his people [Blair] continues a tradition of liberty which I sometimes think continental Europe has lost interest in.”Some took those upraised white hands as a sign of surrender....
Bruckner thinks this loss is the result of the continental West European tendency to “interiorise” guilt. “Certain intellectuals and opinion makers seem to think that every crime committed against us results from Western ‘domination’ of the world.” Referring to the leftist paper Le Parisien, which the day after the London bombings headed “Al-Qaeda punishes London,” Bruckner comments: “They make it seem as if Osama bin Laden is a schoolmaster caning misbehaved pupils who had the bad idea of joining the Americans. […] This attitude [of ‘interiorisation’] is extremely perverse: it actually boils down to shifting the guilt from the criminals to the victims.”
The challenge of pacifism and trying to live out the beatitudes in the cold, harsh reality of the real world... Who knows the answer? Will the debate go on and on right up until we destroy ourselves?
Clip of Come Back Jesus -- Alpha Blondy