What are the ultimate causes of the Pakistan school massacre, and how can we how can we stop violence proliferating – in our minds and in the world?
Of all the horrors we’ve seen in the international conflict with radical Islam, Wednesday’s massacre at the army school in Peshawar by Taliban insurgents must be among the most ghastly. When defenseless women and children are targeted on this scale, we’ve reached a new level of barbarism.
How did we get here? Without detracting from the attack’s distinctive horror, it stems from a spiral of violence and escalating conflict. When did it all start: the Pakistani army’s campaign against the Taliban? The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? 9/11? The legacy of occupation and empire that stretches back over centuries? The causes are endless: perhaps that’s the nature of conflicts. And the solutions are doubtful. The Pakistani army may be victorious, but at what cost, and with what consequences? Perhaps this war will spread, or merge into the region’s other conflicts; or perhaps the barbarism will just continue to escalate.
Reflecting on the conflicts of his own time, the Buddha alighted on a singular term for what he observed: proliferation. Causes multiply into diverse effects, especially when ideology and beliefs magnify them. He made sense of this by noting the parallel with what happens in our minds: one irritable thought begets another, which becomes a compelling narrative about what’s happening; and, soon enough, we act.
This psychological approach led the Buddha to locate the ultimate causes of war and conflict in the minds of individual human beings. We’ll do anything to banish unpleasant feelings and put things right when we feel they’re wrong, even if that leads us to act in ways we’d otherwise condemn. That’s how otherwise decent people come to justify the use of torture
In the Buddhist view, nothing good can result when we’re driven by hatred, anger and the desire for revenge. Blood will have blood. This doesn’t mean that force should never be used or that wars are never justified; but it’s a strong caution to check the impulse to act out of anger, to note the moral distortion that rigid ideology can bring, and to allow space for the other, wiser responses that come when we put anger aside.
Proliferation ends, the Buddha suggested, when we learn to tolerate pain, rather than reacting to it, and when patience and forgiveness give us the mental space to act with love. For me, that’s the ultimate challenge of the barbarity in Pakistan. The world is good at creating warmongers. Peacemakers have to make themselves.