Truth is the first casualty of war. This old saying holds for many different settings, and reminds us of the difficulty of discerning truth, particularly in the midst of international conflict, and being in an election, where interpretations are free, and election promises are loosely given (and once the election is over, loosely held!)
Consider the public response to the crisis involving asylum seekers in recent weeks. Two polls were conducted simultaneously in two of our daily papers. One asked the question, “How do you think the government should respond to illegal immigrants?” The other asked how we should respond to those seeking asylum from oppressive regimes. The first survey elicited a 96% response of “keep them out”, the second a response of 56% indicating that we should welcome and support them. Vastly different responses to the same issue, where only the wording of the question was different. What is truth?
It is surely true that the one who controls the images and metaphors shapes the public mind. Western leaders paint the Taliban as the doers of evil, Satan’s workers. Militant Islamic leaders are using this same description for the government and peoples of the West. When confronted with the news that more than half a million children had died in Iraq as a result of US sanctions (which is more than died in Hiroshima), Madeleine Albright (Secretary of Stated) responded “we think the price is worth it.” It is clear that those who support the actions of the terrorists apply the same logic. Is either of them “in the right”?
But it is incumbent upon us to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Fly a plane into a crowded building? Launch retaliatory strikes to further devastate an impoverished nation? Would he reject asylum seekers and turn them away? Would he brandish people with dehumanising descriptions so that we no longer see them as fellow strugglers and travellers on a journey?
Our present situation poses difficult questions. Questions of faith. Questions of compassion. Questions of love. Questions for which easy answers are tempting, but usually wrong, with potentially devastating consequences. When leaders start playing on our fears, we can be assured that truth is being concealed somewhere. The way of love - the way of Jesus - is risky, costly, and extremely difficult.
I don’t see too many in the world challenging us to walk it.
October 14, 2001