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The Recipe for Violence

It’s a reliable recipe for dealing with any marginalized, vulnerable, relatively powerless community. Add these ingredients:

  1. Refuse to engage with it in meaningful ways except through the presence of military or paramilitary personnel.
  2. Create real or virtual borders within which economic stagnation and despair are allowed to persist.
  3. Keep the population at subsistence levels dependent on various kinds of public or humanitarian relief.
  4. Tolerate a controlled, alternative black market.
  5. Severely limit viable options for upward mobility, education, and freedom of movement.
  6. Closely monitor behavior and impose harsh punishment for even minimal transgressions. Tilt the justice systems to ensure high levels of incarceration and detention.
  7. Portray the members of these marginalized communities as dangerous, threatening, and predatory.
  8. Allow prosperity to flourish all around these communities as well as in pockets of development where the privileged are encouraged to establish comfortable, protected colonies.
  9. Encourage forms of political and public engagement that give the illusion of power and self-determination but which never really alter the reality of second class citizenship.
  10. Make it clear that submissive, even subservient recognition of and accommodation to this status quo is really the only acceptable option.

Allow these ingredients to simmer and boil for several generations in this status quo that indifferent or enabling friends encourage. Should anyone really be surprised that at the end of this process what gets served up is a toxic stew of violence?

You don’t have to justify killing, affirm cynical, anti-social behavior, or erase standards of moral responsibility to acknowledge that certain patterns of oppressive communal behavior, sustained over generations, tend to produce predictably horrific results whether on the streets of the west and south sides of Chicago or in the refugee camps of Gaza or the West Bank. We can promote all manner of non-violent initiatives, deplore the infusion of guns from illegal sales in Chicago or from the Iranians in the Middle East, blame the gangs and the terrorists and the corrupt politicians – all very bad to be sure. But in the end conditions of despair coupled with powerlessness will almost certainly overwhelm no matter how well we arm the Chicago police or the Israeli military.

Readers may find this analogy flawed. It is certainly inexact. No one in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood is firing rockets at the Gold Coast, though the fear provoked by the occasional appearance of flash mobs of African American or Hispanic youth on the Magnificent Mile does resemble the reaction to Jihadists emerging from tunnels on the border of Gaza. Homes of suspected gang members are not demolished by Caterpillar bulldozers on the south side. They are simply foreclosed, left to decay slowly. There are no illegal settlements in Chicago. Instead, housing projects are knocked down, instead, making way for affluent townhouses to be built. No, the analogy is not exact. But it remains instructive.

None of this means that we must surrender to violence, or embrace those who engage in it. It does mean that what is “criminal” and what is “innocent” is not easily assigned. And that solutions constructed primarily with protected walls and retaliatory violence are futile in the long term. Unless the recipe is fundamentally altered by those with the power to do it, the end product will always come out looking pretty much the same. It remains to be seen whether those who hold power in Tel Aviv or Washington, or Wall Street or the Loop are really willing to change the recipe. Perhaps there is simply enough benefit from retaining the status quo even if it means intervening on occasion with force when the level of violence erupts beyond a certain level of acceptability, which is to say, when it becomes a threat. Very little in nearly fifty years of Occupation, or in the long history of race and class in the United States, offers much encouragement.

The analogy is inexact. Unless your child lies bloody and lifeless in an emergency room in Gaza or Chicago.

John H. Thomas
August 7, 2014

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