Our leaders frequently demonize other humankins. We are told that they are fundamentalist crazy, that they are born with soldier boots on and have the rhythm of marching in their blood. That they want to destroy us, our way of life, and we must go to war to defend ourselves. We have not been able to make an opinion of our own. Until now.
Nobody wants to be drafted into a war: the best they can possibly hope for is to make it home alive and unhurt. Whether a democratic nation goes to war or not depends on the ability of its elected leaders to create the public opinion for a war, and that is only possible if the painted enemy appears strange and impossible to understand and relate to.
In short, people will only go to war against a people they don’t have a potential of cooperating with. This is very universal. How universal? This universal:
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. … And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. … Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
— the Bible (Tower of Babel), the Qu’ran (برج بابل), and the Torah (מגדל בבל)
It struck me as I was reading Twitter the other day and comments to my post about how the Israeli Armed Forces were behind the Stuxnet attack worm. There were several — not many, but several — comments of the kind “excellent! Let’s bomb the XXXX out of those bastards. They’re all fundamentalist crazy.”
And I thought to myself, what a small mind these people have. They are writing this in a medium where they can actually speak to the people involved, where it is practical to do so for the first time ever. It’s just a matter of right-clicking and selecting Translate when something incomprehensible appears in Arabic letters, and you can read their thoughts and ideas all of a sudden. Doing so opened my mind enormously beyond what I had imagined: despite being in dictatorships, these people had thoughts on accountability and transparency far more advanced than regular people in the West.
And you know what?
“They” don’t hate anybody. “They” are mothers and fathers just like everybody else who wants to buy nice things for their children, just like us and just like everybody else. If it is anything they hate, it is the idea of being forced by their own leaders into a war where the best they can hope for is to make it home again alive.
Again, history repeats itself. Our grandmothers and grandfathers were told the same generalizations about the Japanese and the German, about how they were all warlike and that it was just in their blood. (If you live in Japan or Germany, I am assuming the opposite holds true.) Now we now better: Japanese, Korean, German, Chinese, Swedish and Canadian parents all love their children and just want to put a nice dinner on the table.
Never again will it be possible for leaders to paint another kin as demons and beat the drums of war, now that we can finally talk to one another directly and understand our fears, motivations, love, and aspirations.
With the help of Google Translate, and in particular its integration into Twitter tools and Chrome, doors have been opened for my mind that I didn’t know were there. (I know there have been translation tools before, but they have never been this accessible, which is key.) Seeing something in Arabic makes you shrug. Seeing something in Arabic and immediately seeing it flash into language you understand is something different entirely.
This is probably the first time I quote the Bible, Qu’ran and Torah — but I think they are all right in this one passage. When people understand one another, there is nothing we all can’t accomplish.